Posted by: ken98 | July 2, 2011

Viral Genesis, Pandemics, Ancient Guerrila Freedom Fighters, and Outrageously Expensive Diplomats

Day 658 – Ken here (F)(7-1-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Ch.42 pp.720-730)(pages read: 1780)

A long, tangential day.

The Lazic-Colchic War, mostly taken from Procopius (secr to Belisarius) – a war of tangents: a long war of back and forth, wins/losses between Rome and Persia – with a lot of posturing and money spent – and in the end, nothing changes. Actually still a good example of a Persian-Roman conflict which resembled the Russian-U.S. conflicts of the Cold War.

A tangent on pandemics and how this influenced the course of empires.

A tangent on how we can accurately date the genesis of a virus historically now (with genetics – the example used, measles).

A tangent on the (predictable) unfortunate vile prejudices of our host-historian Gibbon – in regards to people of color – specifically Africans.

And then, we’re on to a new chapter (43) and a long, long war of attrition with the Ostrogoths in Italy – retaking (again) Italy for Rome.

The Story
 
Revolt of Colchis (542-549) – From Rome, then From Persia, then From Rome…
 
  • Roman “help” by having a Roman base/protectorate in Colchis – commerce turned into imperial monopolies, mercenaries sent to defend them become their oppressors – Lazians (with incredible naivete and foolishness) ask the Persians to come and rid them of these meddlesome Romans – a soon bitterly regretted decision
  • <li>Persia comes thinking of a Mediterranean navy based on ports in the Black Sea – spec Colchis – Persia drives out Roman garrison, but reduces Laz to satrap, forced conversion (Laz=Byz Christian now) to Zoroasterianism – public rel of Persia

  • Laz sends emb to Just. REPENTS, asks Just. to get Persians out of Colchis – starts 8 years of war
  •  

    Siege of Fortress of Petra(549-551) (Romans besieging Persians who took it from the Romans)
     
  • a page and a quarter devoted to 1400 Persians holding the Roman fortress of Petra, against a Roman siege
  • They are relieved by more Persians, but 6000 Romans assault and take the fort
  • Gibbon speaks of “honorable” wounds – ie those wounds in the front of the body – a quaint and revealing statement of a non-military 18th cent. English gentleman – ah, the romance of war – a weird kind of innocence – something the U.S. lost in the 1860’s and Europe def. lost by 1919
  •  

    Colchis or Lazic War (549-556) AND the Peace Treaty Negotiations (540-561)
     
  • Romans drastically outnumbered – forced back to the sea by overwhelming Persian army
  • However Persians CANNOT TAKE COLCHIS because the native Lazians are now guerrilla “freedom” fighters and will not be taken – so turns into a stalemate
  • Incredible outlays of wealth on the negotiations for peace – Persian ambassadors practically resident at Constantinople for years
  • example of $$: one official – the Persian-Latin interpreter (a Persian) gets 1000 lbs gold (approx $16 million or so) in expenses from Just. – just one official (all this from venemous pen of Procopius of course, who hates Just. and blames Just. for wrecking the empire with useless expense – still shows the incred amt of $$ flowing thru the imp revenue system if its accurate
  • -eventually a Fifty Year Truce is negotiated, and Persia renounces Colchis – status quo after 20 yrs of war – + an annual pmt to Persia from Const of 30,000 pieces of gold (for defense of the Gates of Caspian – but actually tribute – but a tiny tribute) (approx 420 lbs of gold- or about 7 million per year – peanuts to the empire) – less than what they paid for one official’s expenses during negotiations above
  •  

    Conquests in Abyssinia (522)
     
  • Ethiopia invades Yemen (Southern Arabia – cross the Gulf sep. Africa from Arabia) – supp. to help Christians there who are being persecuted by Jews
  • Ethiopia supp. wants alliance with Rome and Just. (533)
  • Then supp. a Roman slave of a Roman merchant takes power (Abrahah) away from Ethiopians
  • As you would expect, there is much anti-semiticism, much racism (anti-African) in this short 4 page history – its interesting that you can see the DIFFERENT PREJUDICES of DIFFERENT AGES HERE – to Gibbon, the scandalous thing was a black-skinned civilization, to Procopius, the scandalous thing was any civilization that was not Rome-based – so a slave of a Roman is better than all the Ethiopians put together and takes the kingdom away from the slow and not-Roman Ethiopians. As Spock would say – fascinating
  •  

     

    What you get when you Google Abyssinians - to my surprise

    What you get when you Google Abyssinians - to my surprise

    An Unfortunate, Disfiguring Prejudice – Gibbon and Africans (and Jews) – in Late Antique Ethiopia and Yemen
     

    Shocked is one word for it (if you’ve been reading some of this blog previously, you knew that this would be my reaction to all this Gibbonian hoohaw)…

    Gibbon’s frothing at the mouth when he is asked to contemplate even the POSSIBILITY of a dark-skinned successful city-state is as unsurprising as it is unwelcome. Reading Gibbon’s impressive running editorial on Roman history, and then stumbling upon a series of wild, irrational racial prejudice is a little like being forced to watch someone repeatedly vomit up their food while eating your own dinner a few paces away. It takes away somewhat from the pleasure of the overall experience, and is highly distracting, and actually is just very pitiable and pathetic. Understandable (given an English Gentleman’s perspective in the late 1780’s) but sad, nonetheless.

    Gibbon manages to uncritically insert the “Evil Jew Persecuting Christians” figure, as he usually does, into his story on the Ethiopians invading the Yemen. Could it be the Christian Roman Imperial sources might be prejudiced against the Jews also?

    Gibbon falls all over himself to show that a somewhat-white, non-Jewish race (Arabs) were responsible for all that’s commendable and noble in ancient Axum.

    What would he think today about the certainty that ancient Egyptians were more African (the famous “flattened noses” and “woolly” hair) than they were “white” “Europeans” somehow marooned in the Nile valley in the continent of Africa?

    Or the fact (genetically proven in the last decade or so) that we (homo sapiens) are ALL are basically African (migrating out of the continent at various times in the last couple of hundred thousand years)?

    Apoplexy, paralysis, death, most likely would result – Death By Truth.

    but anyways…

    A fascinating aside – the Ancient Eastern Romans apparently DID NOT have the STRONG PREJUDICES against dark skin that the 18th century sported so proudly. But that – the evolution of prejudice – to the Romans it was Germans (Northern Europeans) who were beyond the pale, to the Northern Europeans in the Middle Ages on it was Muslims and then later, Africans – but again, that history is a history for another day.

    Here, I’ll let Gibbon speak for himself:

    (DEF II. Volo.4, Ch.42, p.727-729)

    On PANDEMICS and the MINIATURE size of battles in the Late Roman Empire
     

    You can’t help get the feeling that we are living in a smaller world, a much smaller Mediterranean world than the that of the first 2 centuries of the empire – armies are smaller, cities are smaller, conflicts which seem huge to contemporaries involve numbers (wealth, people, etc) which are fractions of similar situations 300 years earlier.

    The first plague, smallpox, hit the Mediterranean first in Marcus Aurelius’s time (165-180)(Aurelian Plague – taking an estimated 5,000,000 people – 5 million – a devastating shock to the economy, and one which stopped and started wars, and may have helped TURN OFF the second century Pax Romana expanding economy of prosperity you hear so much about in the sources.

    The second plague, smallpox again, hit (250-270+, 100,000 est mortality) in the middle of the Crisis of the Third Century (225-285) when all hell (and chaos) broke loose in the empire (possibly as a sustained reaction, partially, to the downsizing caused by the 1st great smallpox outbreak. It effectively helped to nail the coffin shut on the Mediterranean commercial world of Antiquity – city budgets collapsed, money economies collapsed in rapid inflation (barter ensued), and the result was the Soviet-style, top-down, Command Economy system of Diocletian and the Dominate – which ACTUALLY SAVED the empire and its economy for a hundred years or so.

    A Flea - one way the Black Death, Bubonic Plague is spread

    A Flea - one way the Black Death, Bubonic Plague is spread

    The third, Justinian’s Plague, this time Black Death or Bubonic Plague (541+) took an estimated 25,000,000 (25 million) lives. When the Black Death hit again with a vengeance in the Middle Ages (1341) it took Europe until Gibbon’s time (late 1700’s, or 400 years) to gain back the population it lost in a decade in the 1340’s. It would not be too much to estimate that the empire of the 540’s – in terms of population – did not appear again until the late 900’s. Remember also, the plague was a pandemic, hitting the Persians as well as the Romans, the Chinese, Africa, Asia

    Justinian’s accomplishments are all the more remarkable, looking at the disastrous events of the early part of his reign (example, also the strange Late Antique Years without Summer (535-536) (my own reference – to the 1816 Year Without Summer) – which played havoc with agriculture, caused widespread famine worldwide, could have weakened the human race enough to allow Plague to erupt in China and spread throughout the globe.

    The world really was becoming a much, much smaller place, at least in terms of humans populating it.

    In terms of battles, armies, and wars:

    The pre-plague(s) Mediterranean world was comparitively awash with human beings.

    19th Cent. monument to the fallen Romans and victorious Germans of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE when the General Varus lost 3 legions and 18,000 men in the dark forests of Germany - or where the dark forces of the Roman Centralized State were stopped dead in their tracks by thousands of brave freedom fighters - you choose which label to use

    19th Cent. monument to the fallen Romans and victorious Germans of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE when the General Varus lost 3 legions and 18,000 men in the dark forests of Germany - or where the dark forces of the Roman Centralized State were stopped dead in their tracks by thousands of brave freedom fighters - you choose which label to use

    Varus

    Although the Romans thought it a disaster (the “Varus Disaster”), they quickly re-grouped, came back at the Germans and effectively destroyed German resistance for the time being within 15 years. It was a heavy blow (the loss of men), but it wasn’t a fatal one.

    In 9 CE, three legions (18,000 men + camp followers and 1000’s of animals in the baggage train) were lost completely in the very early Empire by the Roman General Varus who woefully underestimated the opposing German leader Hermann (Arminius).

    So great was the shame, and the ill luck thought to adhere to the numbers of the Legions, that XVII, XVIII and XIX never again appear in the Roman Army’s order of battle. The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest was keenly felt by Augustus, darkening his remaining years. According to the biographer Suetonius, upon hearing the news, Augustus tore his clothes, refused to cut his hair for months and, for years afterwards, was heard, upon occasion, to moan, “Quinctilius Varus, give me back my Legions!” (“Quintili Vare, legiones redde!”). Gibbon describes Augustus’ reaction to the defeat as one of the few times the normally stoic ruler lost his composure.

    from Wiki Publius Quinctilius Varus – Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

    Photo of Adrianople, modern Edirne, in Thrace, the westernmost parts of Turkey - also the place in 378 where the Roman emperor Valens lost a significant portion of mobile Roman legions in a drastic defeat at the hands of the Goths

    Photo of Adrianople, modern Edirne, in Thrace, the westernmost parts of Turkey - also the place in 378 where the Roman emperor Valens lost a significant portion of mobile Roman legions in a drastic defeat at the hands of the Goths

    Valens, Goths, and Adrianople

    by 378 and the Battle of Adrianople (where the emperor Valens lost his own life and the lives of his 7 legions (Late Antique legions, 750-1000 men each) of 5,000-7,000 went up against between 10,000 and 15,000 Goths. This, on the other hand was a significant reduction in Rome’s ability to field a sufficient number of armies to both guard the borders, and allow a mobile presence to deal with specific incursions/needs. Many historians see it as the end of the Roman Empire’s resurgence (only 100 years since Diocletian re-established it after the Times of Crisis of the mid 200’s) and the beginning of the inevitable Decline and Fall. Rome had run out of men.

    Justinian and Khusrau

    Fast-forward to our time (the 540’s), 5 years after a world-wide famine, 1 year into the beginning of one of the greatest pandemics in human history. Persia has given up (for the time being) assaulting Roman towns in Syria, and is trying to take over distant Colchis (Georgia) from the Romans. The Vandal war was accomplished with a few thousands of Roman troops, the Italian wars used 10-15,000, the Roman-Persian wars in Colchis, 7000 Romans, and 1000 auxiliaries.

    A closeup ofA closeup of the Measles virus - now known to be about 1100 years old - at least the strains we have around today Measles

    A closeup of the Measles virus - now known to be about 1100 years old - at least the strains we have around today

     
     
     

    Last Word…
    We can NOW ESTIMATE the AGE OF DISEASES GENETICALLY
     

    This fascinates me. The first two great plagues of the Roman Empire were in 165-180 (Antonine Plague: smallpox), and 250-270+ (Cyprian Plague: smallpox).

    There is some controversy about whether these two plagues were measles or smallpox, but through genetic analysis of the Measles virus, 21st cent. scientists can now assert that Measles jumped from Rinderpest or Murrain in cattle or cloven-hoofed beasts and into humans sometime in the 1000’s.

    – from a Wiki article on the Plague of Cyprian (250)

    Historian William McNeill asserts that the earlier Antonine Plague (166–80) and the Plague of Cyprian were outbreaks of two different diseases, one of smallpox and one of measles, although not necessarily in that order. The severe devastation to the European population from the two plagues may indicate that people had no previous exposure—or immunity—to either disease. The modern consensus, however, is that both outbreaks were of smallpox.[6] This latter view seems like to be correct given that molecular estimates have placed the evolution of measles after 500 AD.[7]

    and the footnotes:

    ^ D. Ch. Stathakopoulos Famine and Pestilence in the late Roman and early Byzantine Empire (2007) 95
    ^ Furuse Y, Suzuki A, Oshitani H (2010) Origin of measles virus: divergence from rinderpest virus between the 11th and 12th centuries. Virol J. 7:52.

    We live in an amazing time, and yet we’re JUST STARTING TO UNDERSTAND THE WORLD AROUND US REALLY – we’re really just very very young children in a big, wide, unknown universe yet – I once read a historian (while I was still in a graduate program in history) who opined that in the distant future historians will mark THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES somewhere in the 20th or 21st centuries.

    NOTE: there’s a list of historical epidemics in Wiki which is equally fascinating – notice the pandemics: Bubonic Plague of Justinian (541) and the Medieval Bubonic Plague – Black Death (1341) both took 25,000,000 (25 million lives) – an incredible number for Late Antiquity – AIDS (30 years into the pandemic) has taken 25,000,000 (25 million so far, worldwide).

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