Posted by: ken98 | November 5, 2009

Eunuchs, Kurds, and Peace in our time

Day 56 – Ken here
(DEF v.1, ch.13, pp.380-390)

I’m trying writing earlier in the day – we’ll see if there’s a corresponding improvement in content.

The Story

  • Description of Treaty with Persia: 1)Persians lose 5 northern satrapies, some form new Roman Mesopotamia province, 2)Tiridates given Armenian kingdom. Frontier borders fixed. Treaty holds for 40 years of peace (not bad).
  • Diocletian and Maximian (as Augusti, although Constantius and Galerius did most of the work) hold Triumphs in Rome – [historical note: this is the Last Triumph in Rome – sign of drastic decline of importance of Rome as an imperial capital] (11-20-303)
  • Long Description of Decline of Rome as capital of the empire
  • New Capitals: Milan (at the foot of the alps), Nicomedia (Diocletian) (at equal distance from Danube barbarians and Euphrates (Persians)
  • Diocletian Reform: Praetorian Prefects permanently disbanded, Roman Senate purged of treasonous elements, stripped of all imperial power
  • Diocletian Reform: creation of the new uber-empire: emperor unabashedly autocrat/despot (Deus et Dominus – God and Lord), elaborate bureaucracy, court ceremonials, new imperial offices magistracies to  replace absolutelythe old republican offices
    Diocletian assumes the diadem (= king, not first citizen now), and consciously introduces Persian court ceremonies (bowing, utter obeisance, etc)
  • Diocletian Reform: new administrative division of the empire into 4 parts: 2 Augusti with half of the empire a piece, and 2 Caesari with quarters of the empire (the other 2 quarters are administered personally by the Augusti) – after 20 years, the Augusti retire, and the Caesari assume power, picking new Caesari underneath them – smooth transition of power – it semi-worked once (for Diocletian)
  • Diocletian Reform: Drastic reorganization of the provinces into much smaller (less rebell-able) pieces. This specific system lasts while Diocletian is in power for 20 years – but fixes the general shape of the empire for centuries to come
  • Famous Gibbon Quotes

    The 2 Eyes
    This is a famous description of the 2 empires, Persian and Roman, and their mutual views of each other. Reading history tends to reduce the Late Roman/Persian conflict to “good” freedom-loving western emperors battling justly against a depraved, degenerate grossly rich Persian fascism. The truth, as both sides saw it in this cold war which lasted 400 years, is different. The Persian/Roman modus operandi was closer to the “detente” of Soviet-US relations – a live and let live, synergistic, ongoing relationship which affected both sides deeply, if unintentionally. Here is Gibbon, quoting Peter the Patrician (writing during Justinian’s time in the 540’s, 230 years after the fact), who is in turn quoting the Persian diplomat Apharban as he attempts to get the Romans to agree to a peace treaty after the disastrous Persian defeat during Diocletian’s reign: “The Roman and Persian monarchies were the two eyes of the world, which would remain imperfect and mutilated if either of them should be put out.” (DEF, ch13, p.380).

    Gibbon and Eunuchs

    "a "white" eunuch - circa 1749 - probably in Turkey - this is an image that would be current at the exact time Gibbon was writing his Decline and Fall - an image crawling with subtext

    "a "white" eunuch - circa 1749 - probably in Turkey - this is an image that would be current at the exact time Gibbon was writing his Decline and Fall - an image crawling with subtext

    He hates them. “The interior apartments were intrusted to the jealous vigilance of the eunuchs, the increase of whose numbers and influence was the most infallible symptom of the progress of despotism.” (DEF ch.13, p.389). It’s hard not to catch a little homophobia in all this. Every mention of homosexuality, “effeminacy”, and eunuchs brings a cascade of scorn and derision from Gibbon. It will be interesting to see what he does with General Narses the Eunuch and the reconquest of the West under Justinian.

    The Kurds (Carduchians) Pass under Roman rule

    Xenophon - he fought his way through Kurds/Kurdistan circa 480 BCE - the same Kurds we find passing to the Romans in the early 300's, and the same ones battling in Iraq today

    Xenophon - he fought his way through Kurds/Kurdistan circa 480 BCE - the same Kurds we find passing to the Romans in the early 300's, and the same ones battling in Iraq today

    The Kurds have a long historical record in the West. Xenophon’s March Upcountry (Anabasis) is the story of Greek mercenaries and their dangerous, painful escape from Persia marching through the Kurds in part. The Kurds remained in their “large and mountainous territory of Carduene, the ancient seat of the Carduchians,” (DEF ch13, p.382), as a thorn in the side of Roman, Persian, Arab, Turk, and Iran and Iraq. Here, by this treaty, in the first years of the 300’s, they pass under Roman control.

    On the Problem of Non-Expansion
    This per Gibbon: The ambition of the former (Galerius) grasped at the conquest of the East, and had proposed to reduce Persia into the state of a province. The prudence of the latter (Diocletian), who adhered to the moderate policy of Augustus and the Antonines, embraced the favourable opportunity of terminating a successful war by an honorable and advantageous peace.” (DEF, ch13. p380). The engines that drove the early empire right on into the 3rd century were those of expansion and conquest. I wonder if any country (used to expansion), turned solely upon it’s own resources, without expansive goals can long keep up a belief in itself and it’s own intrinsic individuality and worth. I think there has to be a “frontier” being “pushed back” in some sense for a society to stay focused. In this, I think, Gibbon’s support of “wise moderation” is the continual signature of a societal death warrant. Perhaps they should have made Persia a province, and worked at integrating Persia into the empire as hard as they worked at assimilating the undigestible Egyptians.

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