Day 657 – Ken here (Th)(6-30-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Ch.41 pp.710-720)(pages read: 1770)
We go to Colchis today, the land of Jason, the Argonauts, and the Famous Golden Fleece - except of course, we're (in the 540's) a millenia or two later than Jason's time - Scene of Jason returning the Golden Fleece, from a vase in the Louvre
A very short day – not a lot of sleep last night – and I can hardly keep my eyes open.
So forgive the rambling, and misspellings, and brevity (well, maybe the brevity will be a relief), still…
A day of the beginning of the century-long Persian-Roman wars, which really won’t end completely until the Arab conquests in a hundred years – mid 600’s.
Today we do the Syrian campaigns (540-542), and the beginning of the Colchic-Lazic War (543->) – that is Rome and Persia battling it out for world domination (well, Mediterranean-domination) in minor frontier kingdoms – again, shades of the U.S., Russia, and Korea and Vietnam.
This is one set of campaigns from the Endless War (my term for it, since it started with The Endless Peace 10 years earlier – a peace which gave Justinian the chance to take back the provinces of North Africa from the German Vandals, and demolish the German Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy through the good offices of his fantastically capable and loyal General, Belisarius) – Procopius goes into great detail about these Lazic Wars because Belisarius fought in them (and one aim of his as a verse-writer was to please/glorify his patron and captain Belisarius), and so, Gibbon goes into great detail likewise – with a little complaining – but Gibbon does it.
Khusrau really does burn Antioch, take its citizens captive, hustle them off to Persia, build them a new city, settle them there and call it “Khusrau’s Better Than Antioch.” It’s the kind of thing you can do AND CARRY IT OFF if you’re the Persian King of Kings.
By the end of the 4th Volume of the Decline and Fall, we will have covered 400 years in 2,000 pages. In the last 2 volumes (1,000 pages) we will have to cover over 900 years. It’s certainly NOT going to be this detailed in the years to come.
The Endless War – Persian-Roman War of the Mid 500’s
As seen previously-Justinian already conquered N.Africa, Italy, part Spain (West) – Germans he’s fighting try to bring in Persians
Persians open up an Eastern Front, abruptly stop Italian War – altho Belisarius had already taken out the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy – still it probably stopped him from attacking Spain, Gaul, Pannonia (Romania, Bulgaria)
Procopius as usual, blames Just. for the war, the cost of the war, and bungling the world conquest by allowing Persian to attack
The surprising thing at this point (considering Diocletian and Const. set the whole empire UP to deal with these incursions quickly and effic) is how easy it is for a huge army to get in and out of the empire but more on that
The Endless War – Persian Syrian Campaigns (540-543)
Persian Shah Khusrau I (Chosroes) the Great – on an expedition to get $$ and slaves and ransom, NOT CONQUEST
(540) – sets out, avoiding the huge Roman fortresses in Mesopotamia, goes for large Roman cities
Takes Dura, takes 12000 captives, ransoms them and the town back to the citizens for 200lbs gold (7 million dollars)
NOTE – $$ pledged by the BISHOP of the neighboring town of Sergiopolis – how common it is now for the church to do the work of the govt – he cant come up with $$ so Sergiopolis gets it next year – kind of like the MAFIA this ransoming business – protection money – but also very medieval – warfare=big business=ransoming captured nobles
Famous Ruin of Antioch – HUGE 2nd city of the East – Germanus, Just. nephew refuses to stay w/i walls upon approach of huge Persian army, imperials run out the Daphne gate, Antiochenes (proud and boastful still) youths try to defend, entire city is levelled, entire population enslaved and taken back to Persia – where Khusrau build the FAMOUS city called Veh-az-Andiv-Khusrau (“Khusrau’s Better-than-Antioch”) – WHAT A NAME – “Hi, I’m Ken, and my hometown is Koch’s-Better-Than-Amsterdam”
Khusrau strips the churches, takes the gold and jewels, returns the bits of bone and wood to the Christians (relics)- holds the horse races (since Just=blue, Khusrau=green) – thinks about conq whole east
Belisarius called back from Italy (541-542) REMEMBER, Bel. has been conq’ing Italy, N.Africa for the last decade or so
Bel brings war to Persia (541), taking Sisaurane fortress, sending gov + 800 cavalry to ITALY to FIGHT FOR HIM and ROME, ravages the peaceful fields of ASSYRIA (not used to hostile armies anymore, in the last 1200 years) – attempts to RESCUE the CAPTIVES of Antioch from their new city, sickness stops his campaigns, recalled to capital, indignantly – why haven’t you conq’d the entire Persian Empire yet in one year?
Bel. is working with a much smaller force, a fraction of the Persian armies, he has to be very careful
(542) Bel. sent out again, finds Roman Generals cowering in Hierapolis, camps on banks of Euphrates, spreading his army out far and wide to make it seem bigger, Khusrau comes in spring to attack Palestine again, sees the appar. huge army blocking, Kh. decides to retreat for this season, as the pickings seem lean - BLOODLESS VICTORY – ends up being end of Khusrau’s Syrian campaigns
The Endless War – Colchis-Lazic Campaigns (544-560)
Gibbon complains of a long and tedious account of a short(er) war – The Lazic Wars – where Belisarius stars again
Gibbon is just as long and tedious
1st-Geography – Colchis is the on the shore of the Black Sea, where the Caspian and Black Sea are nearest – Laz is a language and a nation-group – still around today in Central Asian Georgia
Very humid, moist – the ground said to be too soft to plow – Gibbon brings up the old chestnut about the ground being wet because of an underground connection between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea – Wiki mentions rainfall of 4000mm = 4m or 12 feet or 144 inches of rain a year – that’s what the Olympic peninsula gets in Washington or the rainforests get in Costa Rica – so I guess it IS WET in COLCHIS
Colchis was known for gold (sieved from rivers, supp. in fleeces – thus the golden fleece)
Gibbon says (in his day – late 1700’s) Mingrelia (modern Rep of Abkhazia) exported 12,000 of its own citizens a year as slaves to the Turks – this area is a very complicated area to this day (re: the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict, the South Ossetian War in Georgia, etc
(500 BC) Colchis a Greek set of city states, Conqd by Mithradates (100 BCE), autonomous part of Roman Empire (60 CE), described by Arrian in time of Hadrian (130 CE), Laz nation becomes Orthodox Christians (522) – which also was (as it always was) the decision to be a client state of Byzantium – in this case of the emperor Justin – Justinian’s uncle and predecessor
Map of Ancient Colchis, Iberia - the gold at the edge of the Black Sea is the fables Colchis - the Greek's -Easternmost Voyage- the Caspian Sea is the bit of blue to the right - that whole area is our old friend THE CASPIAN GATES - from a Map of the Early Caucasus - 500 BCE
Modern map of Black Sea area of Central Asia - Georgia is about where our Colchis Lazic Perso-Roman War will take place
The Caspian Sea from orbit - all that green and white fluffy stuff to the left of the photo is the TEMPERATE RAINFOREST that is the Caucasus and Georgia and the ancient land of Colchis/Lazica - the knob in the middle on the right - turquoise colored - is a very interesting bay - Garabogazkol - and the result of an apropos-of-nothing tangential research binge I helplessly went on today in my sadly half-awakened state
Garabogazkol – or the Mighty Straits Lagoon
I was going to do something on the Golden Fleece but found this really interesting bay on the Caspian Sea – which has nothing to do with our story today
The tiny strait - you can barely see it in the upper photo - from space - you can see the Caspian spinning and draining its waters into the vast, shallow depression
There’s a bay of the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan – which is shallow, fills and dries up at times, and is 40 times saltier (or something like that) than the ocean – its about 40 x 40 miles and its the funny knob you see on the right hand side of any Caspian Sea picture. It has a surface area (the bay alone) of about 6900 square miles and is about 35% saline (as a comparison, the Great Salt Lake in Utah has a variable surface area of between 950 and 3300 square miles and is about 27% saline, the ocean is about 3.5% saline, the Caspian itself is about 1.2%) – this is a BIG SALTY SALT PAN (not to put too fine a point on it).
Great Salt Lake from space in 2003, after 5 years of drought, at near-record lows - so the Garabogazkol is about 7 times bigger than this
Its called Garabogazkol – “Mighty Strait Lagoon”, because, well it is a lagoon, and its only exit/entrance is a 1000 foot wide, mile long strait with incredibly harsh currents connecting this lagoon/salt pan to the greater Caspian Sea.
Tethys Ocean beginning to close up in the late Cretaceous (Dinosaur time) 90 million years ago - its the open water to the right of -Proto-Africa- (actually fragmenting Gondwanaland) along the equator - now Central Asia sits where once the Tethys proudly waved - the Aral, Caspian, and Black Seas are remnants of that once vast Reptile-dominiated ocean - and the Tethys is why you find marine fossils on the top of Mount Everest
The Caspian itself is very interesting – it has no outlets – indeed it is a depression in the middle of a continent – a remnant of the Tethys Ocean (Ocean that is, not Sea – something I learned by bitter experience). The Tethys was an equatorial ocean that (200 million years ago) opened up in the middle of the supercontinent Pangaea, between what became Gondwanaland (Africa et al) and Laurasia (Europe/Asia). What with India accelerating up from Antarctica, colliding with Asia, and causing massive mountain/plateau building to occur, the ocean gradually drained away, and only water-filled depressions remained of that vast stretch of open water – these are the inland Seas of the Aral, the Caspian, and the (once-blocked, now open) Black Sea.
What’s interesting, to someone from the Southwest, is that Garabogazkol is kind of like another Great Salt Lake sitting smack dab in the middle of a very large continent – this one (just like the Great Salt Lake in Utah), sadly, was never really on the radar of Eastern Rome, although ambassadors to the Gokturk Khaganate in the ‘mid-500’s from Justinian’s court would have been passing near the Caspian to get to the Altai mountains in Central Asia where the Khaganate had its home (all this from a couple of days back) – and the silk roads to China went nearby, but the Mighty Lagoon wasn’t noticed particularly (unlike another large shallow lagoon-like structure – the Sea of Azov at the top of the Black Sea – that was the Maeotian Lake in antiquity).
There, now you’re ready for both Late Cretaceous AND Early Byzantine Trivial Pursuit.
And all those distant, landlocked, or nearly landlocked Asian seas, the remains of a Dinosaur-Age Ocean. Things that make you go hmmmmmmm…
And thus endeth the tangent for today…
Here in (spy) satellite photos from 1984 (NASA Archives) we SEE THE LAGOON COMPLETELY DRY - in a great fit of socialist decision-making and dramatic concern for the people - in order to protect the Caspian from excessive evaporation (water flows into the bay from the Caspian continually and evaporates, its like a great monstrous swamp cooler), the Garabogazkol was dammed up (you can still see the broken dam), and it simply dried up - the resulting salt storms devastated agriculture and nearby populations health for hundreds of miles downwind - the dam eventually failed, and they allowed the bay to refill - thus, the turquoise knob of 2011
Garabogazkol from the ground - the lagoon (Garabogazkol) is on the right, the Caspian, on the left, the spit of land separating the two is what we're standing on