Day 131 – Ken here (W)(1-20-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.21, pp.830-840)
I’m back to feeling under the weather again, doing some medical stuff, but determined to do my 50 pages a week if possible. I’m really, really late again (past midnight) so a little dopey.
Blogging is a strange experience to live through – I’m almost happier writing into the ether, noting maybe 2 or 3 hits a day (expecting that they’re spiders of stray high-school students googling Caracalla or something) – it’s odd thinking of anyone else finding an interest in the long summaries and stray thoughts that wander helplessly looking for a home in my brain and make the leap from neuron to fingertip to blogsite post.
The truth is, like any artist, I do it for myself first, make myself happy first – if someone else finds it interesting, hey! all the better – but the real, tangible worth of blogging is the process more than the output I think. Growing through the daily (often not-fun) experience of read, think, research, write, re-write, post, and later, referencing/rereading all the massive content (good and bad) that you’ve created. The output is great too – keywords/searches on the blog turn these individual posts into an eclectic, personal, history of the Roman Empire organized by different topics – it’s actually pretty incredible – the times we live in – the tools we have – the society we’ve become. I’m glad I’m still around.
and now for something completely different –
We start the first of 3 chapters highlighting the short reign (3 years) of the emperor Julian (for the next 130 pages or so). For those who have read Gore Vidal’s Julian, this is all familiar territory. For those who have read their Ammianus Marcellinus, Libanius, Eupanius, and Julian himself, this will be even more familiar territory.
It is hard to dislike Julian, and harder to dismiss him, had he lived for another 40 or so years (like Constantine) and ruled the empire through the year 400, modern Europe as we know it would never have been – who knows what fantastical societies would be inhabiting Terra perhaps in the last half of the 28th century (this year 2010 CE would be 2763 AUC (ab urbe condita, from the founding of the city (of Rome)). Grist for the milling of another post sometime soon…
Julian strikes me as the kind of emperor we would all have liked to have been – reluctant and just, inexperienced, but a quick learner, a book-worm philosopher that taught himself (through the military-school-of-hard-knocks) to be a great general, a man who was not afraid to rethink huge political decisions even when everyone told him he was nuts.
It’ll be great spending time with him for the next 3 weeks or so.
Julian’s early life has already been covered (search on Julian in this blog) – basically, he was one of only 2 direct male descendants of Constantine the Great still alive (the Augustus Constantius was the one surviving son of Constantine’s 4 sons, Julian the on e surviving nephew of the many once alive). This is due to the their SURVIVAL of the BLOODBATHS of the civil wars of Constantine, of his sons, and of the treason trials of relatives of Constantine – a very strange, murderous, and unexpected history
the other nephew, Gallus, had just been executed for treason
Julian was exiled to Asia Minor, Athens, then sent to Gaul to pacify the barbarians (at 20, a college student) he was expected to fail and be killed – he succeeded admirably – his reward? Constantius’ jealousy and desire to execute him – we now rejoin chapter 22
Constantius (or his advisors) come up with plan to get rid of Julian – send the inexperienced young student to rule 1/3 the empire – the part being overrun by barbarians – if he fails, he’s dead
After 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th campaigning years in Gaul, Julian as general over all Spain, Britain, Gaul is incredibly loved by legions and provincials through all the Across-The-Alps provinces of the empire – the barbarians fear this new philospher-emperor, but also trust him to keep his word (357-361)
Constantius publicly takes credit for all the victories in Gaul – not mentioning Julian’s name – and proclaiming in the first person how HE performed all the military victories (which is a pretty stupid thing to do – expect the whole empire will be fooled – but he IS the EMPEROR)
Constantius (or his advisors) come up with a new plan to get rid of Julian
Julian’s Generalship in Gaul and his Near Brush With Death
New Plan to kill Julian – give him a Catch-22 – He was ordered to send the best of his troops to Persia to aid Constantius in his next big military offensive in the East. However, Julian had given his word to his barbarian auxiliaries that he would never send them away from their native Gaul. Without his auxiliaries, his government and generalship wouldn’t last the next year, and would be killed or executed. If he refused to send them to the emperor, he would be killed or executed
Julian hesitates, then gives the order, the troops are ordered to gather/march through Paris (headquarters and the most direct route to the East and Constantius) – which Julian argues against, knowing the troops will be tempted to appeal to Julian at headquarters
They DO appeal, they get angry, threaten Julian with death UNLESS he takes the purple and becomes co-Augustus – Julian’s range of action becomes much more limited – death and quicker death are his only options – he is acclaimed emperor (361)
Julian sends deputation to Constantius protesting his innocence, but asking for Constantius’ agreement – and that’s the end (and beginning) of the cliff-hanger for today
Julian’s Acclamation as Augustus and his Near Brush With Death
First book cover for Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Per the book this is what a Catch 22 is - 'There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. 'Orr' was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. 'That's some catch, that Catch-22,' Yossarian observed. 'It's the best there is,' Doc Daneeka agreed.'
Gore Vidal's Julian - an utterly riveting historical novel - Gore Vidal writes on so many levels at once it's a joy to read - the first section, of Gore Vidal, imitating Julian, imitating Marcus Aurelius (Meditations), imitating Alexandrian writers and philosophers before him actually made me laugh out loud (but I'm a sucker for Marcus Aurelius)
Chariot Race from the film Ben Hur - yes, its Rome, not Constantinople's Hippodrome, and yes, its 3-1/2 centuries before Constantine, but it shows the horse racing from a court-side seat's perspective (Hippodrome = Horse-Run-Place).
Sociology 101 – Example: The Ancient Use of Public Chanting to Represent Political Power
In the ancient world, public chanting was a form of power imposition. Without exactly realizing it, Gibbon documents this behavior twice in our current 10 pages. It is a very strange behavior (imagine the President attending a Baseball game and having the fans chant back for 10 minutes “Health Care Reform” or “Lower Taxes”), yet an effective one, and survives for centuries in the empire as a valid form of political communication.
The monks who were Catholic would gather together and chant the word “AND” strongly when chanting psalms during service (this was to emphasize their co-substance of Jesus (the AND was between Father, Son Holy Ghost), as opposed to the Arian’s who would NOT emphasize the co-substance). Sounds subtle and would be LOST to our ears, but this is an ancient behavior now lost – except maybe in Soccer matches – and it made the Arians mad as hornets. (DEF v.2, ch.21, p.815)
The Romans shouted in the Circus at Constantius (when upset about the Orthodox Bishop Liberius being exiled, and even more upset when Constantius brought him back and allowed 2 bishops to be Bishops of Rome – although the rest of the empire was regularly having dual bishops (Arian/Orthodox) at this time).
Why is this significant? Later, in the Eastern Roman Empire, as we will see, it was kind of a public approval rating for emperors, to hear the public chanting of the crowds before chariot races. They would chant “Lower Taxes”, “Down With The Prime Minister”, etc and get their wishes directly heard by the emperor in an extremely stratified society where the emperor had little or no opportunity of hearing/gauging popular feeling.
We will see this particularly in the 500’s – example the Nike Riots of Justinian. Just an interesting sociological/anthropological note – something that makes the Romans seem strange/wierd to us (in the 21st century) and therefor tells us we’re seeing them through their own eyes and not as primitive copies of citizens of modern nations states.
Hippodrome in Constantinople - reconstruction in 3D from byzantium1200.com - you can tell its Constantinople because of the slope the whole edifice was built upon, this end is a couple of stories off the ground - imagine 50,000 people chanting in unison at the imperial box towards the end - an interesting way to do a referendum
Detail of Constantinople's Hippodrome (again from byzantium1200.com) - the Boxes - or the gates where the horses bolted out onto the track - note the size and the length of the Hippodrome (in comp. with the above) its a very large place - how did the crowds synchronize the chanting? Maybe the extreme organization required to get such a chant going made it all the more compelling for imperial administrations sensitive to public opinion in the capital