Posted by: ken98 | October 2, 2009

Arabs and Persians

Day 21 – Ken here

Man – it’s getting really late again, and I haven’t blogged yet – pitch black outside and quiet as midnight (which it is, actually), just the mournful sounds of freight trains calling out to each other in the night…I just got back from a discussion group I go to and the topic was SETI and the search for intelligent life in the universe. A little off subject for 238 CE…


Philip the Arab

Philip the Arab

We’d just finished the Year of Six Emperors in 238 (Maximin Thrax, Gordians I,II, Pupienus and Balbinus, and Gordian III), and left Gordian III reigning in peace, ruling wisely, only to be murdered by his legions (as had all his predecessors for the last 40 some odd years). He died while on campaign on the Euphrates, cut down by his men after his counselor, Praetorian Prefect, and father-in-law Misitheus died of the flux. Philip assumed the Prefect position, and the legions revolted soon after. Suspiciously soon after…

Sly Gibbon Quote
Gibbon describing Philip (and Arabs in general)(remember this is the 1770’s) “Philip, his successor in the praefecture, was an Arab by birth, and consequently, in the earlier part of his life, a robber by profession.” He turns the phrase on just 2 words – consequently, and robber. It’s a little difficult to convey Gibbon’s effect exactly by quoting one sentence. You have to imagine yourself sitting down to read a 3000 page book, settling in for the long haul, plowing through paragraph after paragraph of elaborate, clear, and eminently sensible English prose, and breezing by those 2 words almost before you’ve realized he’s said them. I don’t know – I like it – maybe it’s an acquired taste – and he’s done it more than once. I’ll point out more as we go along.


Chapter 7 ends with the Emperor Philip the Arab (244-249) celebrating the 1000th birthday of Rome for 3 days (4-21-248). Gibbon briefly comments on the 5th Secular games being held – the Ludi Saeculares held every 100 or 110 years – a period longer than any human life – and so a rare and strange festival. They were celebrated only 4 times in the first 1000 years, and involved rituals esp. involving the many gods of the underworld. Gibbon also mentions (with a little anti-Catholicism) that the Popes (Pope Benedict VIII) reinstated the Games as the Jubilees held once every hundred years. Like the 200th birthday of the U.S. in 1976, Rome was rolling a little crookedly into its next 100 years in 248, and going through some hard times.

Philip the Arab celebrating the Ludi Saeculorum - an Antonini

Philip the Arab celebrating the Ludi Saeculorum - an Antonini

Gibbon puts it this way “The limits of the Roman empire still extended from the Western Ocean to the Tigris, and from Mount Atlas to the Rhine and the Danube. To the undiscerning eye of the vulgar, Philip appeared a monarch no less powerful than Hadrian or Augustus had formerly been. The form was still the same, but the animating health and vigour had fled. (DF vii pg 209).


Chapter 8 begins a long, long exposition on the Persians. Much of it is dated and wrong, but not due to Gibbon. Its due to the unfortunate/fortunate fact that (as I’ve said before) we live in the Golden Age of the Sciences, including the Science of History (and yes, I DO believe it’s a science). So much is being written and researched of late that historical perspectives are changing annually and there seems no end to the mountains of factual data dumping continuously into the ever-grinding Graduate School of History mills.

The Two Eyes

Persians called the 2 Empires, Persia and Rome, the two eyes of the world. Supposedly there was a second throne, unused, and (presumably) set lower than the Shah’s sitting in the Persian throne room, should the head of the “other eye” ever visit there.

Gibbon described the Persians in much the same way Romans did: as Eastern Despots who considered absolute obedience as natural in their subjects and who valued human life not at all. It is a recapitulation of an old East/West chestnut of a paradigm – the free West versus the enslaved East – the poor, but honest West versus the luxurious, decadent East. Another Gibbon quote “and it appears that he (Artaxerxes) was driven into exile and rebellion by royal ingratitude, the customary reward for superior merit.” (DF viii p.214). The Persians were no better, they merely considered Romans barbarians, uncivilized, believers in many gods rather than the one Ahura Mazda (Good God) and possibly followers of the Lie (the Devil). As I said before, beginning with the end of Septimus Severus reign in the early 200’s, the Romans and the Persians were going to battle it out in a World War that lasted until Byzantium and Eastern Rome finally won in the early 600’s – when Islam swept both the exhausted empires off the face of the map.

We’ll continue with the Persians tomorrow and Ardashir (Artaxerxes), the founder of the second Persian Empire. It’s actually quite interesting, Gibbon digressing in an almost sociological way, on the great Roman foe to the East, despite his prejudices.

Ardashir being crowned by the Good God (Ahura Mazda)

Ardashir being crowned by the Good God (Ahura Mazda)


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