Posted by: ken98 | September 12, 2011

Persia’s 15 Minutes (Well, 15 Years) of Fame, and Rome At Its Lowest Point – the Vortex of Chaos

Day 731 – Ken here (M)(9-12-2011)
(DEF II, v.4, Ch.46, pp.900-910)(pages read: 1960)

15 Minutes of Fame, Persia, Rome, and Andy Warhol

15 Minutes of Fame, for Persia, then Rome and finally, Andy Warhol - Brief Periods of Fame are what today's reading is all about - - - from the famous Andy Warhol quote - "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 Minutes" - a process which (with social-networking, the internet, etc) is in a fair state of becoming a commonplace today



Persia pretty much DESTROYS all of Rome, Rome goes through 3 emperors (Maurice, Phocas, Heraclius), and Gibbon has a field day with the sources.

I probably should have spent more time on this – because, really, this is an INCREDIBLE PERIOD OF TIME – but I’m a little under the weather, and its like 105 degrees outside, and I am currently air-condition-less – so, a less than full treatment for you today. But Khusrau II’s conquests ARE INCREDIBLE, as are Heraclius’s tomorrow.

I continue to experience cognitive dissonance reading this section of Gibbon – I promise not to indulge in any more long, rambling asides on the unlikely events and suspect motives that ancient historians have described/imputed to the reigns of Maurice, Phocas, and Heraclius, so we can actually talk about history, rather than historian’s faults. And yes, I’m well aware I have a few of my own, and yes, I’m well aware that writing a 20 something-years effort of well over 3000 pages and 1000 years of history is an easy target for random sniping by persons NOT writing a 3000 page, 20 year work (read me, Ken).

But, as we progress later and later into the “Greek” Roman Empire, and the sources get thinner, Gibbon I think is less and less concerned with its actual history, and possibly more concerned with its entertainment value. I mean, that’s all he has left, really. And, Gibbon, in the final analysis had to be published after all.

Notwithstanding all of the above, still, Gibbon’s use of firsthand sources in the original language is exceptional for his time. The writing of the Decline and Fall is a heroic effort, the reading and digesting of the sources leaves you (well, me) speechless (knowing how time-consuming, tedious, frustrating, and usually not-praised it is to work with original sources).

But enough, onto the Persian Apotheosis! (to coin a Gibbonian phrase)…

The Story
The Mounting Chaos, Riots of Constantinople + Rise of Emperor Phocas (602)
  • Emp Maurice – a man of the Blues faction in the circus – known as a firm, penny-pinching emperor – suspects Germanus (Maurice’s son in law) of wanting the throne
  • Riots in the streets, emp is parodied by actors in various uncomplimentary situations – an interesting bit of social commentary – parades with derogatory repr’s of the emperor – coordinated chanting in the circus (horse-racing hippodrome of Const.) – various ways the lowest citizens could voice their disapproval
  • On a NOTE – after they succeed in pulling Muarice down, the populace bitterly bewail their loss, later under Phocas
  • Maurice flees with his family across the Bosporus to Chalcedon, sending his son Theodosius to his friend the Persian King of Kings Shah Khusrau II now asking for HIS (Khusrau II’s) help in gaining back MAURICE’S THRONE – as Maurice once helped Khusrau II get his throne back from Bahram IV
  • The Centurion from the Danube – Phocas – now has (thru the people) his portrait sitting next to the emperors in the hippodrome – a bad sign – Phocas ascends the throne, Germanus steps aside
  • Greens support Phocas, Blues, Maurice – one of the public chanting sessions BLUES=”remember Maurice still lives”, so Phocas sends to Chalcedon, kills Maurice and his 5 sons

    Phocas – 8 Years of Terror, Defeat, Vortex of Chaos (11-23-602 -> 10-4-610)
  • Strange aside on Gregory I – Gibbon notes that Greg REJOICED at the fall of Maurice, rise of Phocas – something apparently preserved in Greg letters/sermons and something the PROTESTANTS gleefully jump upon – that Greg backed the wrong horse
  • We are deep in the TIME OF LEGENDS and need all the help, wits, and bravery we can muster to adequately acquit ourselves of our historical duties – the sources that write about this time, write 200 yeaers after the fact and are church sources – so it all sounds more like fairy tale than history – but enough ranting
  • Phocas supp is short, bestial, red hair, beardless chin, ignorant of letters, law, arms C’MON I MEAN REALLY – HOW DID HE GAIN THE EMPIRE and how was he in charge up on the Danube? – this is more an interesting list of what a 9th cent Byzantine thought “UGLY” was – remember they’re writing 200 years after the fact
  • Theodosius (Maurice’s son that went for help to Persia) found and beheaded – which is a normal Roman move – kill all the relatives – see Constantius II – beginning of Phocas Reign of Terror – ie unremitting deaths – altho how can we tell whats truth and whats fiction? – the truth is Phocas lost most of Asia and Palestine during his reign – SO OF COURSE HE WAS VILIFIED – his successor is one of the 2 most venerated emperors (Heraclius) – so OF COURSE PHOCAS WAS VILIFIED -sorry I’m still ranting
  • Although Maurice’s wife and daughters had been spared – after 2 plots to assume power, Phocas has them all killed after taking them out of their monasteries

    Fall of Phocas, Rise of Heraclius (610)
  • Phocas Losing Control – Terrors worsen – many executions, maimings
  • Green faction alienated from Phocas – Phocas tries to put them down in every city of the empire – putting down these hooligan gangs of sports fans – like the Greens – was prob/ly good policy – but that was Phocas’s power base
  • Crispus (nobleman) in Constantinople, asked to take over -he’s too old – Cr. asks Exarchs in Carthage to approach and to take power by civil war – , but recommends Heraclius (his son) and Nicetas (son of Gregory, his lieutenant) – Nicetas goes by land, Heraclius by sea to take Constantinople – whovevers 1st to Const. wins – Again, DIFFICULT TO BELIEVE – sounds like something a monk would think up in a monastery 200 years later…
  • Heraclius wins – ie gets there 1st, Nicetas bows outPhocas is totally taken unawares – they take Phocas and dismember him – as Maurice had been dismembered before – how brief is the “mobs” memory – 6 years before they were frothing at the mouth for Maurice’s death,now they mourn him and “froth” at Phocas – again, it could be true, but it seems a typical anti-democracy, anti-common-person, pro-aristocratic “anecdote” – altho to be fair – Byzantine politics are pretty bloody – lots of executions, mutilations, blindings, maimings, etc – oh and lots of rioting and circus chanting – at least for a while, until all the hippodromes closed and we enter the Middle Ages with a vengeance – the “Terrors” are much more common and much less unusual than the historians are making out – again prob’ly a black-washing of Phocas’s reputation 200 years later

    Reign of Heraclius – One of the 2 Great “Byzantine” Emperors (Along With Basil II(ca. 1000))
  • Heraclius comes at the lowest point of the empire before the Latin conquest in 1204 – not much was left around 620’s – he turned it around entirely and basically ANNEXED Persia
  • It wasn’t his fault that 7 years after his great victory – when he should have been re-building and re-organizing the vastly expanded Roman Empire, the Arabs burst out in Jihad and took both weak, impoverished Persia and weak, impoverished Rome in only a couple of decades of fighting – took them PERMANENTLY</li>

    Persian King Khusrau II Takes 2/3 Of the Roman Empire (603-620’s)
  • The Persians 15 Minutes of Fame – NOTE: we have almost no sources for any of this – just monk’s chronicles – and those written 200 years after the fact
  • Khusrau II enraged at Phocas for deposing Maurice (his friend and protector) and Maurice being killed by the Romans and replaced by Phocas in 602, uses this as excuse and invades Rome (603+)
  • 1) Takes the frontier towns near Tigris/Euphrates – huge, important forts of Merdin, Dara, Amida, Edessa (603+)
  • 2) Takes Syria, Asia Minor – Chalcis, Berrhaea, Aleppo, Hierapolis, Caesarea (cap. of Cappadocia) (611+)
  • 3) Takes Palestine – Jerusalem (and the True Cross) (614)
  • 4) Takes Egypt – all of Egypt,and along N.African coast to Tripoli (616)
  • 5) Asia Minor – Besiege/encamp about Constantinople for 10 years (616+)
  • At this point, Persia = one of the greatest empire ever of Europe/Asia/Africa – stretch from India, S. Russia, to Const, to N. Africa

    Drachma of Khusrau II

    Drachma of Khusrau II


    Gibbon (and Ken) on the Sources for the Next Couple of Chapters


    As I have said, we enter into the Time of Legends here – most of what we know – as SECONDARY SOURCES – are written down by churchmen 200 years later in the form of chronicles – bare listing of events and dates.

    Usually such a list, preserved in a monastery, is there for (forgive the run-on sentence structure):

    1) the edification of the monks (so stories teaching strong morals themes are put to the fore – and as with any form of journalism – the goal is to MAKE YOUR MORALPOINT – so, monkish chronicles deal with the inevitable punishment of sin by God (esp. the sins of a ruler, who does not rule as a son of God, but rules according to earthly wisdom – ie riches, power, glory, fame), PIETY IS GOOD AND REWARDED, IMPIETY IS BAD AND PUNISHED – the odd corollary of this thesis is that BY DEFINITION since GOD IS IN CONTROL, for the most part suffering and damage and decay of the Roman Empire is DUE TO ITS INHABITANTS’ SIN – therefor, if there is a section of history where Rome suffers (i.e. when Persia takes 7/8 of the empire in a 20 year period) BY DEFINITION, it must be because of sin – either the emperor’s or the people’s or both, and

    2) the glorification of the Church – so rulers/people who take land from the Church, or espouse opinions which are heretical to the writers of the chronicle – ARE ALL BAD. THERE”S ONLY BLACK AND WHITE, and

    3) the glorification of Rulers who were warm in espousing Church goals/strategies – those that weren’t are by definition, BAD – and

    4) personal reasons of the monastery/monk for liking/disliking a personage – ie he took away their monastic lands, gave a ruling against them – the list is endless – but the end result is – what’s GOOD FOR THE MONASTERY IS GOD’s OWN GOOD – so WHAT”S NOT, ISN’T.

    Since the object of chronicles is more MORAL than HISTORICAL, its very difficult to believe ANY MORAL judgements – OVERTLY STATED or INFERRED – Gibbon – I think in the interest of making a more interesting Decline And Fall allows himself to believe much of what he reads. Although he’s aware he’s on thin ice – this from Gibbon (On Theophylact):

    Note 039
    The general detail of the war against the Avars may be traced in the first, second, sixth, seventh, and eighth books of the history of the emperor Maurice, by Theophylact Simocatta. As he wrote in the reign of Heraclius, he had no temptation to flatter; but his want of judgment renders him diffuse in trifles, and concise in the most interesting facts.

    (DEF II, Vol.4, Ch.45, p.898m fn.39)

    Descent from the Affectation of Rhetoric to Rude, Simple Abridgments

    and, in talking about the invasions of Khusrau II (603-620’s) Gibbon mentions in a footnote his concerns about sources:

    Note 057
    We must now, for some ages, take our leave of contemporary historians, and descend, if it be a descent, from the affectation of rhetoric to the rude simplicity of chronicles and abridgments. Those of Theophanes (Chronograph. p. 244 – 279) and Nicephorus (p. 3 – 16) supply a regular, but imperfect, series of the Persian war; and for any additional facts I quote my special authorities. Theophanes, a courtier who became a monk, was born A.D. 748; Nicephorus patriarch of Constantinople, who died A.D. 829, was somewhat younger: they both suffered in the cause of images Hankius, de Scriptoribus Byzantinis, p. 200 – 246.]

    (DEF II, Vol.4, Ch.45, p.907, fn. 57)

    Chaos or the state of the Roman Empire

    Chaos - what we're Falling Into Today - Chaos Theory Wallpaper (from Google)


    Last Word…


    Quoteable Gibbon


    In A Typically Enlighten-ed View – Gibbon Wonders “Who Reads Byzantine Prose?”

    Really, until just recently, in the last 50 years, studying Late Roman History (called “Byzantine” a derogatory term), was “slumming” it historically. The French philosophes of the 18th century, Voltaire, Montesquieu, etc relegated its prose to superstition and church-nonsense, the 19th century saw it as a great romance, and as a vehicle for nationalism (Russia, Slav nations, Balkans) – it is only in the 20th century, and recently, that Byzantine Studies have been taken seriously as a legitimate, scholarly field in their own right. Which is odd, because the period in question (800 years from 200’s through the 100’s) is the cradle of European civilization and the foundation/basement of the societal/cultural structures modern Europe, and by extension those of North America, South America and recently the world. So I think its important, obviously – but I’m biased – I LOVE history and LOVE Late Antiquity/Byzantius.

    Gibbon again, sends yet another elegant hand-wave to all his French/English historian friends when he slips in one of his cunningly vicious tangential asides, speaking of a certain Byzantine texts (in this case the monks Eutychius and Antiochus on the conqust of Jerusalem by the Persians in 614):


    Note 060
    On the conquest of Jerusalem, an event so interesting to the church, see the Annals of Eutychius, (tom. ii. p. 212 – 223,) and the lamentations of the monk Antiochus, (apud Baronium, Annal. Eccles. A.D. 614, No. 16 – 26,) whose one hundred and twenty-nine homilies are still extant, if what no one reads may be said to be extant.

    (DEF II, Vol.4, Ch.45, fn.

    On The Causes of Arthritis – Theophylact Claims HE HAS THE ANSWER but declines to Give It – Gibbon is Skeptical

    More on the inappropriate pride of Theophylact – who apparently thought a lot of himself and his history – and mentions in an aside that he knows the cause of arthritis, but he’s not telling, since he’s a serious historian, and writing “real” history necessitates he neglect to mention extraneous discoveries/knowledge. For once, Gibbon is not amused (with Theophylact) – I don’t know why Gibbon believes him when Theophylact tells the rest of his “Tall Tales” with a straight face – I’m finding it increasingly difficult to believe anything he says (no, I won’t start ranting again) – but when you only have one version of a story, you have to run with what you have I suppose – so we end up running with the overly-proud-of-his-own-abilities Theophylact.

    Gibbon, speaking of Maurice in exile, about to be murdered:

    For himself, he refused to fly: his body was tortured with sciatic pains, (45) his mind was enfeebled by superstition; he patiently awaited the event of the revolution, and addressed a fervent and public prayer to the Almighty, that the punishment of his sins might be inflicted in this world rather than in a future life.

    Note 045
    The inhabitants of Constantinople were generally subject to the NOISOI ATHRYTIDES and Theophylact insinuates, (l. viii. c. 9,) that if it were consistent with the rules of history, he could assign the medical cause. Yet such a digression would not have been more impertinent than his inquiry (l. vii. c. 16, 17) into the annual inundations of the Nile, and all the opinions of the Greek philosophers on that subject.

    (DEF II Vol.4, Ch.45, p.901, fn. 45)


    Golden Semissis of Phocas

    Here is the monster - the emperor Phocas - at least to Gibbon and Theophylact - I have my doubts after 1400 centuries, and after perusing the sources - but who knows?Golden Semissis of Phocas

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