Posted by: ken98 | October 3, 2011

Model Emperors, A Tiny Bit of Gibbon, A Whole Bunch of Ken, A Little Frost

Day 752 – Ken here (M)(10-3-2011)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.48, pp.70-80)(pages read: 2110)

Snow, woods, and miles to go

Snow, woods, and miles to go

We have in some way reached a crisis in this whirlwind chapter 48 – Gibbon has stopped and filled in a few pages with an incredibly detailed life of the emperor Andronicus (we meet him tomorrow as emperor) BEFORE he was emperor. We also get to see the son and grandson of our favorite Alexis I (John, Manuel) and we suddenly realize we have ENTERED THE MIDDLE AGES and have a WEALTH OF DETAIL now about EVERY SINGLE PERSON IMAGINABLE. That many of the details may be apocryphal, and the stories more fanciful than factual (however you define the word factual) is lost on Gibbon. I really think he is tired of the whole project, and sincerely WISHES IT SAFELY AND CLEANLY DONE. But we (and he) have a good 900 pages to go before that – I might say Gibbon has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps – but I won’t.

The Story
John I the Handsome (1118-1143)
  • Gains throne as legit heir, son of prev emp Alexis I
  • Alexis daughter, Anna hates him
  • John is one of the most beloved of emperors – a model ruler and reign like Marcus Aurelius
  • at his death, honorable (and unusual) concord between both his sons, Isaac and Manuel, Manuel the younger chosen by Alexis to rule, Isaac the elder agrees to this
  • Constant battle with the Turks

    Manuel I (1143-1180)
  • Another model ruler
  • But has problems, as his second wife is French – a Latin princess (of Latin Kingdom of Antioch) – remember this is POST 1st Crusade
  • Although Gibbon doesn’t highlight it – Manuel was the 1st VERY WESTERN emperor – ie feudal, liked jousting matches, relied on great families and their PERSONAL attachments to him thru oaths – all VERY UNGREEK, and not the way the very bureaucratic, law-centered Roman Empire had been run
  • Manuel dies, leaving Isaac his son 12 years old as a regent of Maria his wife

    Isaac I (1180-1183)
  • The regency only lasts 3 years
  • Greeks are tired of being Latinized, resent Maria as a Latin and a non-Greek
  • Andronicus (who has had a checkered career with Manuel, in and out of prison) rebels, leads an army, has Maria tried and executed for treason, and Isaac is killed also

  • Gibbon goes on for 6+ pages detailing Andronicus’s very romantic life – before he became emperor, started killing everyone, and ended up being tortured and torn to pieces – he reigned for 3 years as a Greek reaction to Latin-ification – but that’s tomorrow


    John II Comnenus - son of Alexis

    John II Comnenus - son of Alexis, his sister Anna hated him, unfortunately for John Anna Comnenus was a historian - always be careful WHO you irritate - THEIR story may be current 1000 years later, not yours

    Manuel Comnenus - son of John II

    Manuel Comnenus - son of John II, the first emperor to TRY and be a WESTERN man, marrying a French girl - the Greeks ended up killing her after Manuel died - the whole Western/Latin thing just didnt fly in Constantinople - from a Miniature in a manuscript

    Isaac I - Gold Histamenon (successor to the solidus)

    Isaac I - Gold Histamenon coin (successor to the solidus) - Isaac wasn't around that long (being just a kid) to get much more than coins done in his name - he was killed by angry Greek citizens outraged at his French (Western, non-Greek) mother


    Last Word…
    Where We're Taking It To

    Where We're Taking It To


    The Real Scoop – Or Taking It to the Streets
    Sociology & History = Winning Combination



    We have come a long ways in viewing Eastern Roman history from the time of (and just after) the Revolutionary War (1770’s-1780’s) (that is – Gibbon’s time). A long ways. Gibbons, in writing this chapter takes the common method of organizing history by emperor’s reigns (and there are good reasons to organize your work this way) – but ultimately, the beginning and ending of each reign doesn’t nicely delineate dramatic changes in Roman society. THIS IS ELITE HISTORY – and while it is easier to write, it begs a lot of questions – How can I USE this information? Mostly such kind of history is written to KEEP THE COMMONERS IN LINE, HAVE THEM SUPPORT THE EXISTING REGIME/SOCIAL HIERARCHY, INCULCATE RESPECT AND FEAR of HUMAN and DIVINE LEADERS.

    Gibbon also focuses on personality, and personal actions of rules and the elite – which is another ancient reason for writing history – that is – finding examples in people’s lives of the past you can apply to your own life. This is MORAL HISTORY. I personally DESPISE Moral History. History is NOT THE PLACE to get your morals. Morality is an entirely different area of human endeavor. History, in my view, is the Science of Applied Human Behavior – and asks the question “How can I predict future behavior based upon past events?”

    Looking at this chapter (48), most of it is in summary, about individual elites and their actions, and (Gibbon says it again and again) a kind of ROMANCE, a beguiling, exotic story of derring-do, evil rulers, wild women, false sons, true love, fickle mobs, war, peace, wealth, poverty, crime, punishment – the whole melodramatic shebang. THIS, (I’m realizing) IS THE REASON I’VE BEEN IRRITATED for the last week or so. That and not feeling well, but that’s another issue.

    The Streets

    The big story of the Byzantine Empire, of Rome is that of social organization. I mean, you have:

  • A Mediterranean basin of kingdoms and cities, run by slaves, great men and small farmers (pre-Rome)
  • Rome as the first CITY (the successful Uber-City) among equal cities – very localized, low-maintenance, finances run as if receiving tribute, not taxes, slaves=less, farmers becoming serfs, LAW as the binding force (0-200)
  • Rome as a concept of a kind of NATION-STATE – very unequal, not organized well, gradually cities abandoning LOCAL control, look to the empire to perform basic duties, greatly diminished pop after plagues, collapse of expensive system due to natural disasters (200-290)
  • Rome as a centralized Stalinesque MONOLITHIC STATE – the state is all – all citizens = for the good of the state, entire state is militarized to deal with invasions, HUGE bureacracy – a very successful solution to the chaos of the 200’s (300-500)
  • Rome as a land of GREAT MEN, serfs, no national army, mercenary army – an empire of laws, bureaucracy, declining city life – a Christian empire – still a very wealthy place, but smaller having lost the West (500-700)
  • Rome as a collection of THEMES – military zones, with small farmer-soldiers, empire= bureaucracy, law, church, but much smaller, having lost Asia – so money/resources are tight (700-900)
  • Rome as a collection of family-centered Great Men, loss of small farmer-soldier, Great CONFLICT-Farmers vs Great Men taking land – the more Great Men, the weaker the emperors without the farmers, UNLESS they rely on their own families(900-1100)
  • Rome as quasi-Feudal Great Families and their retainers – rise of REGIONALISM under Great Families (ex. Trebizond, Thessalonica, etc after Latin Conquest 1204) (1100-1200)
  • Rome as a single city, a vassal of the Turks, under the thumb of the maritime republics (Venice, etc) basically VERY SMALL – just a CITY – restricted to the area of Constantinople (1200-1453)
  • Rome as a memory – after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 at the hands of the Turks
  • So, what would fascinate me in all of this – today’s reading is emperor Manuel I , kind of the point in Roman history when the barbarian kingdoms of the West (the Frankish, then the French, then the Germans) start to COLONIZE ROME CULTURALLY, where the hallmarks of empire – law, bureaucracy, church, social order, city-life begin to break down into the different and simpler forms of Family Loyalty and (if I can use that word without causing a firestorm of criticism) feudalism.

    The loss of the soldier-farmer, the rise of family-centered politics (Comnenos, Ducas families), family-loyalty based administration of the “provinces” (Themes), the “contamination” of Western culture, esp. after the Latin Crusaders in the 1100’s set miniature “Frances” all over Syria, Palestine, and the Aegean Sea. All this would have been interesting.

    But instead we get the Romance of Andronicus – which I really enjoyed – but as with most Western Medieval stories, the number of people, relationships, and complex alliances and betrayals quickly exhaust my capacity to keep things straight in my head without a pencil and paper to draw diagrams and take notes.

    So, more ranting and raving, and a little historical Ken-THEORIZING – all unasked for, I realize – but there it is – that is the nature of blogs.

    Until tomorrow – it’s almost 2AM and I HAVE to get to bed. Buenas’ muchachos!

    ***NOTE to the interested – being 1/2 New Englander I am genetically inclined to like this poem – and I’m not ashamed to say I DO LIKE IT

    Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village, though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    My little horse must think it queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.

    He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound’s the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    – Robert Frost

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