Posted by: ken98 | December 31, 2014

Last Days of Damascus, Frigid Nuns, Bent Narratives, and Pain and Gain

Day 1934 – Ken here (T)(12-30-2014)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.51, pp.250-260)(pages read: 2290)


Yes, a little sheepish. It’s been quite a long time since my last post


The Story
Conquest of Syria – Bosra 632
  • Siege of Bosra 632
  • One of a number of Syrian frontier forts– of Romans – on road to Medina
  • attacked informally, unsuccessfully by Serjabil, General Caled (Khalid) took over
  • Gov Romanus recommends surrender
  • Romanus converts, leads Arabs inside

    Conquest of Damascus 633
  • 4 days ride from Bosra
  • besiege Damascus
  • Romans send army 70,000 to drive Arabs off
  • CGeneral Caled (Khalid) sends out circular – letter inviting Moslems to join battle – 45,000 come

    Battle of Aiznadin July 13 633 (Battle of Arqa Pass?)
  • Roman Genl Werdan (Gibbon supposes maybe Andrew transcribed backwards) comes top relief of Damascus siege
  • Romans offer money – are refused
  • Romans put to rout

    Fall of Damascus 634
  • Siege continues
  • Story of Thomas (religious man leading defense of Dam.) and his death by a Muslim woman warrior
  • After 70 days – city sues for peace – Caled (Khalid) guarantees it – but entrance gained by Arabs at last moment – pillage ensues
  • Part of city saved by Caled, rest rape and pillage – Damascus divided into 2 parts – protected, unprotected
  • Some citizens allowed to leave – leave en masse – have 3 days to get to safety
  • Guaranteed safety – allow to leave with their wealth

    Pursuit and Capture of Fleeing Damascenes
  • Story of a Roman Jonas – who tries to leave with fiancee after fall of city, bribes his way out of Kisan gate
  • Found, Jonas converts, fiancee continues
  • Jonas convinces Caled to pursue fleeing citizens
  • Romans ask fleeing citizens to take back roads so as not to alarm empire – frustrate the 3 day rule – of course this is per Arab sources
  • Arabs find and take all fleeing citizens after the 3 days are up – due to Jonas the Greek – and their wealth
  • Jonas tries to re-unite with fiancee but is refused
  • apparently made into a play by Hughes – the Fall of Damascus


    Flying Nun

    Gibbon says – just say no – to nuns and monks


    Quotable Gibbon – Frigid Nuns – What constitutes a catastrophe in the Age of Reason

    As always, the best parts of Gibbon are the footnotes.

    The worst thing that could happen to a young woman is to become a nun. Period. End of story.

    This from Gibbon Vol.3 Chapter 51 pp.258-259

    On the fate of these lovers, whom he names Phocyas and Eudocia, Mr. Hughes has built the siege of Damascus, one of our most popular tragedies which possesses the rare merit of blending nature and history, the manners of the times and the feelings of the heart. The foolish delicacy of the players compelled him to soften the guilt of the hero and the despair of the heroine. Instead of a base renegado, Phocyas serves the Arabs as an honourable ally; instead of prompting their pursuit, he flies to the succour of his countrymen, and, after killing Caled and Derar, is himself mortally wounded, and expires in the presence of Eudocia, who professes her resolution to take the veil at Constantinople. A frigid catastrophe!

    Quite the bon mot for a randy nobleman circulating the salons of France.



    Light as well as narratives bend and change when they get refracted through something – or someone


    Bending Narratives – An Interesting Series of Prismatic Contortions – the Story of the Roman Jonas

    This story gets told (probably) at least 3 times in Gibbon’s narrative – in subtext of subtext of subtext – as you follow it from original event to historian to Gibbon to Gibbonian footnote on an 18th century theatrical production.

    The first tale is what actually happened (I know, I know, in this era of absolute relativity, “actual” is a 4 letter word, but I am apparently unteach-able). Something that is hidden from us. After the fall of Damascus, the Arab Generals let a portion of the Damascenes leave in exile with a portion of their wealth. As they were urbane romans they probably set out for the nearest strong city – or to relatives in the countryside. Remember, they were used to all this – they had just gone through 50 years of war – Roman against Persian – and cities had been taken and retaken many times over. Sieges, exile, diaspora were very familiar to Romans of the late 500’s and early 600’s.

    Did it happen? Who knows. But, of course, for Arab historical purposes, the pillaging of fleeing conquered Romans must be the instigation of a treacherous converted Roman (see below). Did Damascus fall? Yes. Were there citizens allowed to exit after the siege? Who knows. Was there a Jonas? And a fiancee? Who knows. We don’t even know the name of the Roman General who lost at the Battle of

    The first prismatic contortion is‘s – writing in Arabic (the first Christian historian to do so) in Alexandria 300 years after the fact (early 900’s) as a patriarch (a possibly unpopular one, as he was possibly not elected so much because of the Christians’ support as he was because of the Muslim government’s support). Eutychius shows the Romans betrayed themselves. They lost battles. They opened city gates to Muslims. And even advised the fleeing citizens of Damascus to take the country roads, so as not to alarm the rest of the empire. They brought it all on themselves. The Arabs had little of the blame.

    The second prismatic contortion – Gibbon’s take on it. Gibbon both reviles and delights in praising the Muslim conquests. As an Englishman, he writes of the masses of the faithful (Muslims) as “naked barbarians” addicted to pillaging. But, as he despises the later Roman Empire, he often contrasts a simple directness of the newly-minted Muslim nation with an endemic corruption of Late Roman society.
    So the Arabs become noble savages. Of course, Gibbon hates the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and so any opportunity of contrasting a kind of “Protestant” primitive monotheism with the bloated and base bureaucracies of the established churches cannot be passed up. Thus the poke at female religious celibacy in the footnote above also.

    The third prismatic contortion – Gibbon (in a footnote) relates the tale as re-told by Hughes – a popular 18th century playwright apparently (quoting John Hughes tragedy

      The Fall of Damascus – 1776

    – you can – by the way – read that play online here – ). Here, there is no conversion to Islam, and the fiancee becomes a nun after Jonas is killed defending Christians against Muslims. In this case, Hughes is comparing the siege of Damascus to the conflict between Protestant (Romans) and Catholics (Muslims) and has been the subject of scholarly debate (see article

    Damascus subsequently becomes the Islamic capital and one of the richer cities of the world – until Baghdad superseded her in the 900’s after Muslim civil war. The original conquest as an Islamic city remains a hot topic today.

    Siege of Damascus

    You can read John Hughes tragedy online now – the play Gibbon excoriates in his footnote


    Barbell Squat

    More gratuitous muscle pictures – actually an example of No Pain No Gain – a concept that works equally well in iron-lifting as well as history-lifting


    Last Word…


    A Great Effort – Pain and Gain

    As anyone who has ever blogged knows – blogging is a pain. But, just as it is n weight-lifting, so is it in life in general – No Pain No Gain. So, I persevere slowly – very slowly – considering I wanted to be done in 365 days and now I’m on day 1934 – about 6 years late. But better late than never, huh? Let’s see how many more trite cliches I can include in a single paragraph – or maybe let’s not.

    Gibbon is interesting to come back to. I’ve been reading Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Polish, French histories as well as the History of Philosophy as of late – and learning the guitar and the ins and outs of paper engineering. Interesting stuff, but not Late Antiquity. I’ll have to get back to Gibbon more often in 2015. We’ll see what happens. Take care. Until next time – K.

    East Gate Damascus

    East Gate – Bab Sharqi – of Damascus – this is the gate Khalid entered when the Muslims first took Damascus – a very fine roman archway – probably from the 200’s not the 600’s – so probly 400 years old when the Arabs took it

    Kisan Gate Damascus

    Kisan gate Damascus – Bab Kisan – this is the gate – supposedly – Jonas bribed his way out of Damascus through – it leads to the south – notice the Chi-Rho in each tower – and the cruder stonework and inscriptions – I dont know but this looks very medieval to me – or maybe contemporaneous with the fall – 500’s, 600’s Late Antiquity

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