Day 1102 – Ken here (M)(9-17-2012)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.190-200)(pages read: 2230)

Las Vegas Showgirls

What the last volume of Gibbon is – hype, infotainment, grandstanding, Enlightenment glitz and glamor, a spectacular fireworks display of cunning historical prose designed to delight and confound the discerning subscriber

A little under the weather, but persevering.

I have to say though, I’ve been unhappily peeking ahead a couple of hundred pages and we will still be detailing the history of Islam as a state and a religion for the next couple of hundred pages – not an especially pleasing prospect if what you’re really interested in is actual Roman history. Its good background. But for 400 pages?

Gibbon’s 3rd volume is basically all non-Roman unfortunately. He spends 2,000 pages on about 350 years of history. Now he has 900 years to go. You do the math (answer: that would leave Gibbon about 5,000 pages left to write – we actually have only about 800 pages left – mucha condensacion as the Spanish would say). You can tell he is getting tired and is down to dotting his “i”s and crossing his “t”s, SLOGGING THROUGH the last 1000 years of Roman history like a man trying hurriedly to load his plate at last call at the legendary buffet at Caesar’s Palace in fabulous (literally) Las Vegas (see above image for everyday sight in the aforementioned fabled city).

Gibbon just grabs what he’s interested in, or what he thinks might sell, or whatever’s nearest and easiest to grab and rushes disdainfully through the rest. He doesn’t ignore it because he’s tired of Rome, he ignores it because it’s eminently ignorable. Trust me, Gibbon says. I know what I’m doing. And we do, because he’s Gibbon and he can write like 99 demons when he sets his mind to it.

Still it’s mostly “info-tainment” from here on out to the end.

But I digress…


Gibbon’s wit and prose

That puts us basically up against New Years before we return to what Gibbon refers to as the history of the “Greeks”. Even when he gets back to talking about Rome now, he’s not REALLY all that interested. There’s a reason why in French the “Byzantine” empire is called the Bas-Empire (low empire). For literate 18th cent. men (read Gibbon) brought up on Cicero and Ovid, Livy, Caesar and who could forget Catullus (whose name I recently realized could be understood as either clever or kitten – a very Catullan conceit), it’s all slumming as far as the eye can see from now on.

The Arab stuff is undeniably interesting but not particularly Roman – except that Islam will occupy in the East (along with the Serbs and Bulgars in the West) the continuous attention of Constantinople and Rome until the 1200’s – of course in 1202 (with the 4th Crusade and what has been justly referred to as the last barbarian invasion) Constantinople becomes a little preoccupied with France, especially when the French sack and take her. I’m sure we’ll get a history of France out of Gibbon also, in 6 months or so. Until then, for the next few months we will be mired in a 1790’s view of the 630’s takeover of a desert peninsula and its society’s religious sensibilities.

Again, his history is mostly interesting from a sociological/anthropological view nowadays, modern scholarship has swamped his pioneering but small Gibbonian boat of research like a tsunami falling on a sandcastle (to freely mix metaphors in the most confusing way possible). In other words, what was cutting edge in 1790, now doesn’t merit a footnote in 2012 – EXCEPT extremely ironically, in that Gibbon himself has become a primary reference for modern day socio-historians following the mentalities of English philosophes of the late Eighteenth Century. From fêted radical to hoary artifact. An evolution we all will follow should our work be so fortunate as to be read centuries from now, as Gibbon’s has .

Gibbon takes a surprisingly positive view of the whole Rise-of-Islam arc of history – again, doing so in a very Gibbon-like contrarian way – partly to shock modern (18th cent.) readers to be sure, but also trying to write decent history about an entire religion that had been described with ignorance, fear and loathing mostly heretofore. For that he is to be praised.

But as for Roman history – the pickings continue to be at the very least, slim. If not non-existent. But that’s my own personal gripe. Your’e probably getting tired of it.

However, be that as it may gentle reader,

we continue onwards…

and upwards…

both literally and metaphysically…

The Rise of Mohammed. Did you ever wonder how Mohammed went from being an orphan who had angelic revelations in a cave to being the head of a unified, theocratic state extending across the Arabian peninsula at his death? Gibbon leads us though it today, in our 10 pages. I invite you to enjoy his prodigious prose-pyrotechnics with me…

The Story
Moh. converts – his family
  • Moh converts his wife (Cadijah) servant, pupil, and friend 1st – 4 people

    Moh. converts – his friends
  • In 1st 3 years of preaching he converts 14 people

    Moh incurs wrath of Meccan leading family – Koreish (613-622)
  • Koreish – leading tribe of Mecca angry at Moh. attacks on ancestral religion of Mecca
  • threaten violence – Moh sends a portion of his believers to Ethiopia and safety

    Moh. sends followers to Ethiopia, Retreats to Meduba (Yathrib) – starts the Islamic Calendar (9-24-622)
  • Driven from Mecca – later the official start of Islamic calendar
  • pursued by Koreish but not found

    Moh. converts Medina, rules there (622-632)
  • recieved as a Prince of Medina
  • both priestly (sacerdotal) and civil office

    War against Infidels – battle of Beder (623)
  • In Medina declares war against the unbelievers
  • Attacks caravans, wealth of Mecca, war of attrition
  • Battle of Beder 623 – Mecca attacks back
  • Mecca loses, men, wealth, direct trade routes to Moh. followers – 1st round of battle to Moh.


    Peace of Augsburg Poster

    An obviously non-contemporary propaganda poster commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Shmalkaldic League – that the League didn’t actually start until 1531 underlines the -propaganda- nature of the poster I suppose. Church and State working hand in hand. Unity. An old dream. Germany like Arabia experienced an attempt at a complete changeover in religion in the early 1500’s with the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, the process coming to a temporary halt with the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. But in 1925! What a time to produce such a poster! Germany between the wars, runaway inflation starting, the beginning of the rise of the Nationalist Socialist Party, society unravelling at the seams – perhaps the intent was to show that if warring religions could be reconciled, warring political parties could also, but the Weimar Republic was not fated to survive the tumult of the 20’s


    Religious Makeovers Not Isolated to Islam – Remember Germany
    Cuius Regio Eius Religio


    Lutherans versus Catholics – the middle and late 1500’s were one long continuous battle between rival kingdoms, economic forces, empires, small states, and yes, Protestants and Catholics. And, like the expansion of Islam, where political control and rapid conquest brought about swift changes of religion, political control dictated religious change in Sixteenth Century Europe – the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 was based upon it and it set up a dividing line between Lutherans and Catholics (Anabaptists and Calvinists were still heretics) in Germany that continued for centuries.

    Cuius Regio Eius Religio (literally “whose realm his religion” left the spiritual state of millions in the hands of the consciences of the individual rulers of each state. Short of emigration, your personal spiritual journey was dictated by negotiators between the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the German princes of the Schmalkaldic League.

    Rulers deciding for citizens is not new. All this is maybe something like the gradual assimilation over a decade or so, tribe by tribe rather than individual by individual, of the nations of the Arabian peninsula into Mohammed’s new unitary religious and civil state.


    Name of Mohammed

    Common calligraphic script representation of the name of Mohammed

    Last Word…


    Guerilla Warfare and the Rise of Religions


    Gibbon makes two points which have become commonplace today, but perhaps were closer to the views of the radical, possibly lunatic fringe of Enlightenment historians (in the late 1700’s) in the Europe of 3 centuries ago: that is:

    1) Follow the Money – Gibbon is actually benignly nebulous for the most part on commenting on the religious or revelatory spects of Mohammed and Islam, but he is mercilessly exact when it comes to finding an ECONOMIC IMPETUS to the extremely rapid rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula during the decades of the 620’s and 630’s, and

    2) Working With The Materials You Have At Hand – Gibbon again makes his case for the rapid rise of Islamic Arab tribes by explaining that Mohammed made use of the already vigorous cultural values of raiding and pillaging your neighbor – thus the jihad was a natural extension of a reflex already deeply embedded in the Bedouin culture. You make use of what you have. Mohammed serendipitously has raiders and pillagers for co-religionists, so he uses a raiding and pillaging kind of war for the purposes of his proselytizing among the Arabs, and later the Mediterranean and Asian world.

    Gibbon says as a purely economic motive, embracing Mohammed’s cause was fruitful – that the passionate Bedouin would later, after signing on to Mohammed’s guerrilla bands raiding Meccan caravans, discover submission to the One God and thereby save himself eternally. This, per Gibbon, was all part and parcel of Mohammed’s plan.


    Realistic portrait of a Ninth Century Viking. Given a strong dose of monotheism, could another rather desolate and remote peninsula – Scandinavia – have conquered half the civilized world too?

    Also, Gibbon makes the interesting sociological observation that a patriarchal raiding and pillaging society would be particularly susceptible to a religion that enshrines warfare and conquest as a means to gain salvation. Like pouring rocket fuel into a VW’s combustion engine, maybe (I’m no engineer, I know, the VW’s engine would probably cough and die -but work with me on this), you get a beetle that commands a great deal of respect.

    Just think, if Charlemagne’s missionaries (in the late 700’s, early 800’s) had been also the leader of armies and promised salvation (and by the way, riches) to any who would join up – all of Viking Scandinavia (arctic bedouins who ingested Raiding and Pillaging with their mother’s milk) would have joyfully converted to the cause and conquered half the world before they were through. As it was they (the Vikings) took Western Western Europe, Sicily, Southern Italy and the Russias.

    this, from Gibbon:

    The Arab continued to unite the professions of a merchant and a robber; and his petty excursions for the defence or the attack of a caravan insensibly prepared his troops for the conquest of Arabia. The distribution of the spoil was regulated by a divine law: the whole was faithfully collected in one common mass: a fifth of the gold and silver, the prisoners and cattle, the movables and immovables, was reserved by the prophet for pious and charitable uses; the remainder was shared in adequate portions by the soldiers who had obtained the victory or guarded the camp: the rewards of the slain devolved to their widows and orphans; and the increase of cavalry was encouraged by the allotment of a double share to the horse and to the man.

    From all sides the roving Arabs were allured to the standard of religion and plunder: the apostle sanctified the license of embracing the female captives as their wives or concubines, and the enjoyment of wealth and beauty was a feeble type of the joys of paradise prepared for the valiant martyrs of the faith.

    “The sword,” says Mahomet, “is the key of heaven and of hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of God, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting or prayer: whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven: at the day of judgment his wounds shall be resplendent as vermilion, and odoriferous as musk; and the loss of his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and cherubim.”

    The intrepid souls of the Arabs were fired with enthusiasm: the picture of the invisible world was strongly painted on their imagination; and the death which they had always despised became an object of hope and desire. The Koran inculcates, in the most absolute sense, the tenets of fate and predestination, which would extinguish both industry and virtue, if the actions of man were governed by his speculative belief.

    Yet their influence in every age has exalted the courage of the Saracens and Turks. The first companions of Mahomet advanced to battle with a fearless confidence: there is no danger where there is no chance: they were ordained to perish in their beds; or they were safe and invulnerable amidst the darts of the enemy.

    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.198-199)

    John Calvin

    Portrait of John Calvin, the famous Protestant Reformer of Geneva Switzerland. He and Mohammed shared vaguely similar views when it came to Fate or Predestination

    Gibbon makes his own observation, as an Englishman not believing in fate or predestination particularly, that anyone who did believe it wholeheartedly would cease working and stop practicing virtue, as each man’s fate (and his salvation) would already have been written irrevocably before he was born.

    NOTE: Gibbon’s foray into predestination above, is of course, natural and understandable, as he lived in Switzerland (Lausanne) for quite awhile. John Calvin of (Swiss) Reformed Church fame, just down the lake (Lake Geneva) in Geneva, Switzerland once debated in 1536 in Lausanne at the beginning of his career. Predestination. the idea that all events have been pre-willed by God is a strong tenet of both Islam and Calvinism.


    Edward Gibbon

    Portrait of Edward Gibbon by Henry Walton – such a gentle, kind face – who would or could guess what razor sharp wit lurked behind those placid, innocuous brows? And that we would still be talking about him 200 years later?


    Day 1095 – Ken here (M)(9-10-2012)
    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.180-190)(pages read: 2220)


    Koran in Kufi script, 8th-9th century, showing Sura 2, 102 against witchcraft (Berlin State Library)

    Tired and a little sick but blogging away…

    We’re still struggling through a kind of miscellaneous wilderness of background information on the Arabs, Mohammed, and Islam – far from history and farther from Rome. But struggle we shall.

    Today is all about a very ticklish text – the Koran – so it will be interesting to get Gibbon’s take – an Enlightenment, late 1700’s take – on the most important religious text, dictated by Mohammed himself, in all Islam. The Koran exists, of course, by itself, as a text, and as a continuously re-interpreted foundation of Muslim thought, but it also has a very different shadow-life in Christendom all its own – almost as if the “Christian” idea of the Koran and the actual text were two entirely different books.

    As I said, an interesting chapter – at least from a socio-anthropological view of the texts of Islam as refracted through the mentality of an ex-pat English philosophe.

    The Story
    The Koran – General Intro
  • Koran written in heaven, subs brought down from heaven in a paper copy by the angel Gabriel
  • beauty of the words and the language in the original Arabic shows divine origin – translations cannot capture this miraculous language
  • Sonna or oral law later developed and fixed based upon the Koran

    The Miracles of Mohammed – legends and stories surrounding Mohammed
  • Trees went forth to meet Mohammed
  • Saluted by stones, water gushed from fingers, raised the dead
  • Beams groaned for him, camels complained to him, shoulders of mutton talked to him of their poison
  • a mysterious animal – the Borak – conveyed Moh. from Mecca to Jerusalem and to the Seventh Heaven

    The Precepts of Islam
  • Prayer – originally fifty times a day, knocked down to five, daybreak, noon, afternoon, evening, night – Friday day of gathering for prayer, turned toward Mecca
  • Fasting – Moh prohibits Monks (esp pleasing to Gibbon who hated monks) – fasting during month of Ramadan – no eating drinking women baths during day – Ramadan moves thru the calendar over the years as it is lunar-month-based not solar, so Ramadan can occur during Winter, Spring, Fall, or Winter
  • Alms – not a merit (as in Christianity) but a requirement – usually a tenth of his income

    Islamic Resurrection, Hell, and Paradise
  • Resurrection – on last day, and day of judgement
  • Hell and Paradise – Hell = various levels, infidels, lower=infidels people of book(Jew Christian), lower=infidels non-book, lowest=for faithless hypocrites who assume mask of religion – If Muslim, poss stay in hell for 900-7000 years – a kind of purgatory – and then enter Heaven
  • Heaven – the mention of the 72 virigins, pearls, diamonds, gold luxury


    Enlightenment Islam

    Gibbon has a sardonic, amused reaction to the Koran (which significantly he also had for organized Christian religion, as every good citizen of the larger Enlightenment had). He also assiduously maintained a knee-jerk reflexive admiration for all things English (and by inclusion Protestant and Christian) which he never gave up, no matter what the topic.

    He both debunks “medieval” interpretations of the Koran and Islam and waxes deliciously sarcastic about specific tenets. The idea of tolerance was very new to the European Enlightenment scene, and Gibbon wasn’t incredibly good at it. But he tried. In general, after the Wars of Religion in the 1500’s and 1600’s, Christians in the late 1700’s were not particularly tolerant of each other, let alone of Muslims. Some of my ancestors were burning witches in Massachusetts a few decades before Gibbon. And Islam, of course, was not noted for its tolerance at this time. Just being Christian was reason enough to be conquered by the Ottomans. It was a great time for black and white, a poor time for shades of grey.

    Islam was a still a militant and powerful force at this time. Remember, the Ottoman empire was past its peak, but only a hundred years before (The Siege of Vienna – 1683 (as far away in time to Gibbon as the First World War in 1914 is to us – in other words, not all that long a time), had overrun Middle Europe. Vienna was one of the last European capitals to raze its walls in the 19th century. They were there for a reason.

    Gibbon – quoting the Koran – on its origins

    But Mahomet was content with a character, more humble, yet more sublime, of a simple editor; the substance of the Koran, (91) according to himself or his disciples, is uncreated and eternal; subsisting in the essence of the Deity, and inscribed with a pen of light on the table of his everlasting decrees. A paper copy, in a volume of silk and gems, was brought down to the lowest heaven by the angel Gabriel, who, under the Jewish economy, had indeed been despatched on the most important errands; and this trusty messenger successively revealed the chapters and verses to the Arabian prophet.

    Instead of a perpetual and perfect measure of the divine will, the fragments of the Koran were produced at the discretion of Mahomet; each revelation is suited to the emergencies of his policy or passion; and all contradiction is removed by the saving maxim, that any text of Scripture is abrogated or modified by any subsequent passage. The word of God, and of the apostle, was diligently recorded by his disciples on palm-leaves and the shoulder-bones of mutton; and the pages, without order or connection, were cast into a domestic chest, in the custody of one of his wives.

    Two years after the death of Mahomet, the sacred volume was collected and published by his friend and successor Abubeker: the work was revised by the caliph Othman, in the thirtieth year of the Hegira; and the various editions of the Koran assert the same miraculous privilege of a uniform and incorruptible text. In the spirit of enthusiasm or vanity, the prophet rests the truth of his mission on the merit of his book; audaciously challenges both men and angels to imitate the beauties of a single page; and presumes to assert that God alone could dictate this incomparable performance.

    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.181)


    The Lion in Winter

    Poster for the movie the 1968 Lion In Winter starring Katherine Hepburn, Peter O Toole, Henry II and the incomparable Eleanor

    Last Word…


    21st Century Bending Over Backwards to be Inclusive
    The Common Law as a “child” of the Sharia – the “Common Law” of Islam


    I love Henry II of England. My favorite movie when I was a kid (and still, as an adult) is “The Lion in Winter” – Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Katherine Hepburn, Peter O’Toole. An amazing piece of cinema. The script (like Eleanor’s bare breasts during the long ride from France to Palestine on Crusade) dazzled. Henry II was a man of many parts, and not unsurprisingly, was also the father of English Common Law, the basis for Civil Law in Commonwealth Countries and the U.S. (with the continual exception of Loiusiana which proudly harks back to Roman Law and to France and Napoleon). A new line of thinking links the beginnings of English Common Law, the middle 1100’s, Henry II, and the Sharia (Islamic “Common Law”) via the courts of Sicily.

    The gist of it is briefly mentioned in a 2008 post in the Canadian online legal magazine SLAW in reference to a British House of Lords Decision to allow a refugee Lebanese women to appeal her deportation on the grounds that she would lose her son to her hostile husband upon her return since Sharia law only allows maternal legal rights until the age of seven – this being the reason she left Lebanon in the first place.

    Sharia law is the moral code and legal code of Islam – an unfortunate combination since it encumbers and conjoins legal decisions with the will of God – an almost inescapable temptation the West has been consistently trying to avoid for the last half-century or so. Common Law is the development of law by juries, judges and precedent (previous decisions), as opposed to, perhaps, Roman Law which is promulgated by statutes of leaders or legislators.

    The key point however, is that it is not the CONTENT of Sharia law that was passed to the West, but rather certain small points of the architecture of it. Three points – trial by jury, the action of debt (lawsuits to collect for damages), and a small point on the mechanism (a court, an assize – of novel disseisin to be precise, if you’re one of those who value extreme precision) to efficiently deal with returning illegally dispossessed property – all were a part of Islamic Sharia law in the 1100’s before these concepts entered English legal ideologies under Henry II.

    Henry II was no proponent of a theo-centric law code administered by clerics. After all, Henry II was whipped by eighty monks for participating tangentially in the murder of the Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury – his opinions were the exact opposite – Henry tried to make English church clerks appear in lay royal courts for serious offenses in English society. Henry II clearly had a problem with a single set of rules which would comprise both moral and civil law.

    So it only the architecture that was involved. I personally think the link is possible but not necessary. Islam obviously was the most advanced Mediterranean civilization in the 1100’s, especially economically. So it would make sense that Islam would have legal architecture far in advance of Western Europe. Anyone who has read Georges Duby (the great socio-economic French historian of the 1000’s, 1100’s, and 1200’s) and his landmark, rural-centric economic analyses (Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West, The Early Growth of the European Economy: Warriors and Peasants from the Seventh to the Twelfth Century, etc) can see that Henry II was operating in the great boom-time of the 1100’s – the Reagan-Clinton-Bush years of wildly expanding prosperity after the great depression of the 800’s thru the 900’s and early 1000’s following the collapse of Charlemagne’s new empire and the new Scandinavian barbarian invasions of the Vikings. Henry was operating in an increasing economic complexity in a fit of economic expansion Europe had never seen before. Laws regarding debt and property would probably have been emended even in the complete absence of Islam (to make a broad, indefensible generality). Again, reading Duby, trial by jury has a long and tortuous history on the Eurasian peninsula and the British isles, quite apart from any Islamic influence.

    It’s not that I have a cantankerous chauvinism that will not brook any non-Western sources of our current political/economic system in the West, it’s just that sometimes it seems that in an effort to appear multi-cultural and open to the rest of the world, in trying to undo a couple of centuries of colonial hysteria upholding the superior virtues of European civilization, sometimes historians can make themselves appear silly, by ignoring facts, twisting truths, and denying politically inconvenient events.

    The boom of the late 1000’s and 1100’s was followed by the crazy fractal flowering of the medieval economy of the 1200’s, the population crash of the late 1300’s and recovery and expansion of Europe overseas in the 1400’s, leading to the modern world dominated by Western-style governments and economies. It doesn’t mean Europe and Europeans were first or better or smarter, it just means they stumbled on a mechanism that worked at the time and went with it. Regardless of how arrogantly they asserted themselves, it happened. The same way Islam took down the 2 mega-civilizations of the Mediterranean (Rome and Persia) in the last half of the 600’s. That happened also.

    I guess I happen to feel that there is such a thing as truth apart from rhetoric, opinion and ideology – although I realize that some would think me hopelessly naive. Maybe they’re right. Truth is not for the weak-hearted or weak-minded. It requires a kind of ferocious honesty and continual practice of self-abasement. IMHO, of course.

    Day 1088 – Ken here (M)(9-3-2012)
    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.160-170)(pages read: 2200)

    The Namibian desert - a very dry place

    This is actually the Namibian desert, not the Arabian - a very dry place - but it symbolizes the amount of historical interest (which in this case would be metaphorical humidity) this chapter is providing me, thus far - a very dry chapter

    Again, this is a little bit out of order – an inability on my part to coordinate my blog-scheduling properly.

    Not feeling so well today, not the best, but still determined to plod on, slogging through this Gibbonian travelogue chapter on the Arabian peninsula.

    And not much to go on yet, we’re still in travel-pamphlet land – mainly Gibbon’s “impressions” of Arabia and Arabs garnered from his reading. Rather than history this could be titled “There’s More to Those People That Dress in Those Long Robes Than You Thought, Some Observations on the Arabs and Islam.”

    Actually it’s not all that bad – it’s entirely refreshing and cutting-edge for the 18th cent. to have a historian review geographical, climatic, societal, and cultural values of a region/people before reviewing history, so I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on him. It’s just that MOSTLY, again, these shed MORE LIGHT on the GIBBON’S VIEWS of the world, than they do of the world it proposes to explain (that of the Arabs). But I guess we’ll take what we can get – it’s 2 and a quarter centuries old – that it’s mostly out of date and mostly irrelevant is not its fault. It makes it a little harder to read, but all the more interesting to have read it.


    Continuing with the Arab/Muslim world (this and the next 2 chapters), Gibbon gives an introduction to the Arab people, their character, wars, societal structure, poetry, generosity, hospitality – then goes on to discuss the “time of ignorance” before Muhammad – the religion, idolatry, Kaaba, and the rites of idolatrous Mecca.

    The Story
    Character of the Arabs
  • Patriarchal, governed by oratory
  • Emphasis – like classical societies, like Medici in Florence – by wisdom, integrity
  • Freedom of the individual paramount – more so than the corrupt Greeks and Romans
  • Dishonor worse than death

    Civil Wars, Private Revenge – pre-Muhammad
  • Constant war
  • Revenge and vendettas constant
  • Annual Truce for 4 months

    Arab Society – pre-Muhammad
  • Felt justified in raiding
  • Very interested in Trade and Literature
  • Centered around Mecca (idolatrous Mecca)
  • Love of Poetry – the 7 “Hung” poems – golden poems carved and hung in Mecca
  • Generosity and hospitality proverbial
  • NOTE (KEN): this is a common theme of many many peoples of Asia/Europe (ex. the Scandinavians, Germans, Irish, Ancient Greeks (Mycenae) etc) – emphasis on hospitality, poetry, generosity, war, raiding, revenge and vendetta common – so not exactly a unique quality to the Arabs

    Mecca, Kaaba, Idolatrous (Time of Ignorance) Pre-Muhammed Arabs
  • Worship of heavenly bodies
  • Kaaba exists as a pilgrimage center at Mecca
  • Gibbon describes the Kaaba, the well of ZemZem, etc
  • Gibbon makes the point that the ceremonies of Islam pre-date Muhammad
  • Sacrifices – Gibbon mentions sacrifices, some human – with the Arabs, Romans, Greeks, etc – also the rite of not eating pork and of circumcision
  • He ventures the opinion that Muhammad practiced these, NOT as holy commandments, but as FAMILIAR HABITS that afterwards became HOLY REQUIREMENTS – a very Enlightenment view – a “natural” source for “supernatural” wisdom

    Photo of man from the United Arab Emirates

    Photo of man from the United Arab Emirates - Gibbon records the ancient war cry of the attacking Arab - it includes undressing and the victim's aunt - very strange


    Quotable Gibbon – the Ancient Yo Mama!


    The Strangest War Cry Ever Recorded

    Where does he get this stuff? Is he pulling our leg? (probably not).

    I have in vain tried to find the source of this war cry. It might be Pliny the Gibbon prose is vague to say the least. Gibbon gives no reference, no footnote – which is unusual – not even to the passing reference to Pliny.

    It all sounds more like someone doing the dozens on a playground (“your mama wears army boots”) than something a grown man would yell before he chopped you to pieces. It’s also kind of long and involved (it must be shorter and cleaner and without parentheses in pure classical Arabic). I guess the insult is 1) you have to undress, 2)I’m sleeping with your father’s/mother’s sister. It all sounds very involved, somewhat unlikely. Maybe it was all in Gibbon’s head. Who knows?

    Anyways… here is Gibbon, addressing his English gentlemen, explaining how attacks are conducted by Arabs upon meeting a lone traveler in the desert:

    They (the Arabs) pretend, that, in the division of the earth, the rich and fertile climates were assigned to the other branches of the human family; and that the posterity of the outlaw Ismael might recover, by fraud or force, the portion of inheritance of which he had been unjustly deprived.

    According to the remark of Pliny, the Arabian tribes are equally addicted to theft and merchandise; the caravans that traverse the desert are ransomed or pillaged; and their neighbours, since the remote times of Job and Sesostris, have been the victims of their rapacious spirit.

    If a Bedoween discovers from afar a solitary traveller, he rides furiously against him, crying, with a loud voice, “Undress thyself, thy aunt (my wife) is without a garment.” A ready submission entitles him to mercy; resistance will provoke the aggressor, and his own blood must expiate the blood which he presumes to shed in legitimate defence.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.50, p.162)

    Last Word…


    The subtext under every Contrarian premise - being contrary = happiness by definition

    The subtext under every Contrarian premise - being contrary = happiness by definition

    Gibbon and Contrarians

    Gibbon is above all else, a CONTRARIAN. But unlike the careful definition in WIKI (contrarians are people disagreeing with the majority-i.e. rebels or dissenters), I have to say that the the article sidesteps the obvious difference between a contrarian stance on political issues and a contrarian stance on, let’s say the fundamental physics of the universe – one is a legitimate difference of opinion, the other could get you killed if a “contrarian” were responsible for maintaining your aircraft.

    The real irritation for me, is that often “contrarians” are the exact equivalent of that loud, obnoxious guy in the back of your math class in high school, desperate for attention and getting some “play”, willing to say or do anything to get it. It is pure rhetoric, without a basis in fact and provides (like the Jerry Springer show) a blast of hormonal excitement to the audience’s combined Endocrinol system – which is all O.K. – again, as long as it doesn’t involve any moral or physical equivalent to aeronautical repairs. It has nothing to do with TRUTH, it is pure TITILLATION. And that just seems irresponsible to me. But maybe that’s just my bête noire.

    And what does it have to do with Gibbon?

    Well, it’s finally hit me today (right at the point where Gibbon was denigrating Roma and Greece and praising the primitive but pristine Arab FREEDOM)

    On solemn occasions they convened the assembly of the people; and, since mankind must be either compelled or persuaded to obey, the use and reputation of oratory among the ancient Arabs is the clearest evidence of public freedom. But their simple freedom was of a very different cast from the nice and artificial machinery of the Greek and Roman republics, in which each member possessed an undivided share of the civil and political rights of the community.

    In the more simple state of the Arabs, the nation is free, because each of her sons disdains a base submission to the will of a master. His breast is fortified by the austere virtues of courage, patience, and sobriety; the love of independence prompts him to exercise the habits of self-command; and the fear of dishonour guards him from the meaner apprehension of pain, of danger, and of death. The gravity and firmness of the mind is conspicuous in his outward demeanour; his speech is low, weighty, and concise; he is seldom provoked to laughter; his only gesture is that of stroking his beard, the venerable symbol of manhood; and the sense of his own importance teaches him to accost his equals without levity, and his superiors without awe.

    The liberty of the Saracens survived their conquests: the first caliphs indulged the bold and familiar language of their subjects; they ascended the pulpit to persuade and edify the congregation; nor was it before the seat of empire was removed to the Tigris, that the Abbasides adopted the proud and pompous ceremonial of the Persian and Byzantine courts.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.50, p.112)

    Much of Gibbon’s AVERSIONS are partially “calculated” to shock the sensibilities of his compatriots – gently-bred Englishmen of the late 18th century. He is, occasionally, contrarian. And it’s hard sometimes to tell if he really believes what he’s writing, or he’s writing what will shock and get attention. He, after all, has a subscription (readers who have subscribed to his 6 volume work on the Decline and Fall) to satisfy.

    His loathing of monks, eunuchs (well, the eunuchs part was probably not contrarian), anti-christian attitudes, and here in this chapter, his almost unadulterated PRAISE of ARABS/MUSLIMS, (who were, by the way, still very active via the Turks in challenging Christianity in the 1780’s) was NOT the party line for men of his generation. They were foreigners, Saracens, unbelievers, and considered primitive. Gibbon goes out of his way to combat each of those points.

    You can just see him at a salon dropping these bombshells with a knowing, civilized, eminently reasonable smile and watching the results as the shock waves spread throughout the room. Or didn’t spread. Either way, he was guaranteed of attention – even bad press is good exposure – and to me, that is the soul of the “contrarian” – not the truth of the conjecture, but the level of electric “famous-ness” (or fame for the more fastidious) it generates. Attention and fame is the goal of being contrary. And sometimes Gibbon seems to be guilty of it.

    Of course, after all is said and done, the beauty of being a Contrarian (besides the VISIBILITY) is that SOMETIMES when all the other sheep are moving one direction, you can go innocently in the other direction and make a killing (ex. Contrarian investing). This is probably the source of much of the positive spin put on being Contrarian in the 21st century. Somehow it’s the attitude of winners. I imagine it’s kind of like the bug for gambling (a penchant I am fortunately free of, or I’d be even more poor/less rich than I am right now) – the logic being: if you’re CONTRARY enough times, one of these times you’ll HIT THE JACKPOT when you swerve left as everyone else swerves right. Besides being a rebel and disagreeing with everyone is just plain fun. Like I said even if it involves natural laws and physics. I guess it’s all fun until you poke someone’s eyes out and someone gets hurt.

    Man! I’m irritiable today! A lack of content in the daily 10 page reading of Gibbon just brings that out in me

    Anyways… whine, whine, complain, complain, blah, blah, blah! (I promise I’ll try and do better)

    And thus endeth the rant for today.

    A Contrarian's view of the world - clearly observable difference - and obviously clearly observable FAME

    A Contrarian's view of the world - clearly observable difference - and obviously clearly observable FAME

    Day 1080 – Ken here (M)(08-27-2012)
    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.150-160)(pages read: 2190)

    What Gibbon likes, exuberantly

    What Gibbon likes, exuberantly

    (This posting is a little out of order, I thought it had already posted, but it had gone into a (most probably) self-imposed blog-scheduling black hole.

    We start chapter 50, the first of 3 on the Arabs. Chapter 50 is primarily background about Arabia, and a history of Muhammad (ar in the late 18th cent English – Mahomet). There’s not really much to this first day of the first 10 pages – as you’ll see.

    We look at Arabian peninsula geography today, a little about its peoples, a little about its animals, well, a little about everything. What is interesting, again, isn’t so much Gibbon’s description of it all (the world is a much, much smaller place in 2011 than it was in 1788) – but in the Arabs and their world refracted through late 18th cent. British eyes. It is a fascinating place, two centuries before the embargo and the oil crisis. I wonder what that part of the world will look like in another 200 years? Or the U.S?

    Anyways… on to All Things Arabian…

    The Story
    Geography and Climate of the Arabian Peninsula
  • The peninsula is a rough triangle – 1500 miles by 700 by 1500
  • No rain, no major rivers
  • Diveded into 3 parts – Stony (Syria), Sandy (middle), Happy (Felix, Arabia Felix or the southern part of the pen. and the part having water and plants – this is Yemen) – actually these are the ROMAN names for Arabia (Arabia Petraea, Arabia Deserta, Arabia Feliz) – an interesting and typical way for Gibbon to refer to the peninsula – using Western (not Arab) names, 2000 years old

    Manners of the Arab Peoples
  • Originally fish-eaters (this from the historian Arrian (ca. 100) – it is interesting again that the only background Gibbon has is an imperial Roman historian of the 2nd cent CE
  • Arabs proper – the Bedouins (Gibbon’s Bedoweens)

    Typical Animals
  • Horse – the Arabian Horse trained, according to Gibbon in the tents of Bedouins along with their children
  • Camel – capable of carrying 1000 lbs – every part of a camel is used – meat, hair, dung, urine
  • What Gibbon doesn’t mention is that while Arabs do cherish their horses, they Absolutely LOVE their camels – in pre-Islamic poetry still extant it is often impossible to know whether the poet is writing to his lover or to his camel

    Cities of Arabia
  • 42 cities per Abulfeda (ca 1300) (Abu’l Fida), Marcian of Heraclea (ca 500) counts 164 – Gibbon doubts this
  • most are in Yemen – Arabia Feliz
  • of course famous Mecca and Medina
  • Mecca – forty miles inland from the Red Sea and the port of Gedda, and equidistant by land from Yemen and from Damascus Syria, trade=Africa to Persia trade, Persian Gulf pearls, incense
  • Famous city of Saana in Arabia Felix (Yemen) – an ancient and rich city – a kind of S. Arab New York of Antiquity

    Independence of Arabs
  • No central government, before Muhammad
  • border tribes usually somewhat clients of either Romans or Persians (famous Ghassanids=Roman, and famous Lakhmids=Persian


    View of Yemen city of Sana

    View of Yemen city of Sana - with ancient skyscrapers in their typical style - a kind of Antique New York of the Arabian Peninsula

    Arabian Peninsula from space

    Arabian Peninsula from space - the bottom corner is Arabia Felix (Happy, fortunate Arabia, land of frankincense and myrrh) the rest except for the northern strip is Arabia Deserta - sandy Arabia, the north, Syria, is Arabia Petraea, Stony Syria - of course these being ROMAN NAMES, the Arabs saw the peninsula a little differently


    Last Word…


    Map of the Arabian peninsula, hanging below the European Peninsula

    Map of the Arabian peninsula, hanging below the European Peninsula - Map of Arabian Peninsula (projection = two point equidistant asia)

    Quotable Gibbon


    That Empty Space Over There

    Granted, the Arabs themselves called the southern inland part of their peninsula Rub’al Khali the Empty Quarter. Gibbon goes a little further. It is a part of the great inland upland region of the Nejd (the Upland) (in Gibbonian=Neged) and has the famous Tuwaiq escarpment – which overlooks the capital of Saudia Arabia today in the 21st cent. Riyadh – in the central desert.

    All this (from the perspective of a late 18th cent British historian) looks a little different:

    In the vacant space between Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Aethiopia, the Arabian peninsula (2) may be conceived as a triangle of spacious but irregular dimensions.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.50, pp.151-152)

    A True Gibbonian Marvel – The Arabian Horse

    Not enough can be said in praise, and no praise strong enough for the most royal of horses – the Arabian. It behooves (forgive me, I couldn’t help it) the English aristocrat to fall all over himself in praising horses, that most class-conscious of possessions, and Gibbon does not disappoint in this regard. It is, in fact, a little odd seeing him so UN-SARCASTIC. Here he is waxing equine-ly lyrical:

    The same life is uniformly pursued by the roving tribes of the desert; and in the portrait of the modern Bedoweens, we may trace the features of their ancestors, (10) who, in the age of Moses or Mahomet, dwelt under similar tents, and conducted their horses, and camels, and sheep, to the same springs and the same pastures.

    Our toil is lessened, and our wealth is increased, by our dominion over the useful animals; and the Arabian shepherd had acquired the absolute possession of a faithful friend and a laborious slave. Arabia, in the opinion of the naturalist, is the genuine and original country of the horse; the climate most propitious, not indeed to the size, but to the spirit and swiftness, of that generous animal.

    The merit of the Barb, the Spanish, and the English breed, is derived from a mixture of Arabian blood: the Bedoweens preserve, with superstitious care, the honours and the memory of the purest race: the males are sold at a high price, but the females are seldom alienated; and the birth of a noble foal was esteemed among the tribes, as a subject of joy and mutual congratulation. These horses are educated in the tents, among the children of the Arabs, with a tender familiarity, which trains them in the habits of gentleness and attachment. They are accustomed only to walk and to gallop: their sensations are not blunted by the incessant abuse of the spur and the whip: their powers are reserved for the moments of flight and pursuit: but no sooner do they feel the touch of the hand or the stirrup, than they dart away with the swiftness of the wind; and if their friend be dismounted in the rapid career, they instantly stop till he has recovered his seat.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.50, p.155)

    Picture of an Arabian Horse - for once Gibbon has nothing bad to say

    Picture of an Arabian Horse - for once Gibbon has nothing bad to say

    Day 1073 – Ken here (M)(08-22-2012)
    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.170-180)(pages read: 2210)

    Someone Gibbon could relate to...

    Someone Gibbon could relate to…


    Day 1073. How did I get to this evening, having started out in those hopeful, optimistic days of Day 1 or 10 or even 200, lo these many years ago – when the original plan was to get Gibbon completely read and blogged-out in just over 12 months?

    And why am I reviving the whole Gibbon-obsession all over again after almost a year of silence?

    All very good questions – but like a bad habit, reading Gibbon is hard to quit cold turkey. Just try it sometime yourself. I made the mistake of picking him up again first thing this morning and now I find myself writing on this blog late into the night, once again. He has a way of getting under your skin.

    Besides, I like the guy. Well, most of the time.

    And I respect him. He fought for what he thought was reasonable and rational, often in direct conflict with the popular common-sense opinions of the 1780’s (ex. his loathing of the early Christian church, and even his pro-Islam stance in the reading from today’s pages). He fought even though his personal life and his health was in shambles and was getting worse. He did it, even though many, including himself, questioned the foolish arrogance of one man, alone, being able to write a competent 2000 year narrative of the most famous city in European history.

    But arrogance is a requirement of artists. And Gibbon had it in abundance. He was an intelligent, well-read, and rebellious man with an attitude and a burning desire to be heard – a potent and unusual combination of traits for an eighteenth century historian, especially an English classical historian who would normally lean more towards tones cautious, conservative, and appropriately respectful. Gibbon, as you’ve probably already figured out was none of those.

    Gibbon, like Marvin the Android above and below, considered himself to have a brain the size of a planet, at the very least that of a dwarf planet (say Ceres or Haumea), and he persevered in finishing his 3000 page history of Rome DESPITE having an embarrassing medical condition which left him incontinent and odoriferous yet suffused with the compulsion to make surgically precise literary bombing raids on imperial Roman history and imperial Roman historians.

    Today, Gibbon focuses his considerable analytical talents and wit on the beginnings of Islam – and surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising for such a famous or rather infamous contrarian) he militates for a gentler, kinder European view of the prophet of Islam – Mohammed.

    Marvin the Paranoid Android

    An earlier, sadder incarnation of Marvin the Paranoid Android from the original Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy television series circa 1981

    The Story
    Arabian precursors to Islam
  • Beginnings of Islam – Sabines – southern part of the Arabian peninsula
  • Worship of the 7 planets
  • Influence of the Hebrews
  • Influence of the Christians – Syrian splinter churches – Jacobite and Nestorian
  • Each Arab “was free to elect or to compose his own private religion and the rude superstition of his house was mingled with the sublime philosophy of saints and philosophers”
  • Jewish and Christian books already transcribed into Arabic

    Birth and Education of Mohammed (569-609)
  • Unlike Eur historians, Gibbon maintains Moh was born of an aristocratic house
  • Grandfather Abdol Motalleb involved with relief of Mecca and defeat of Ethiopian/Christian domination of the Yemen (S. Arabian pen)
  • Father was wealthy, but dies young, leaving Moh an orphan – with very little money
  • At 25 he enters service of the wealthy widow Cadijah – whom he marries
  • Gibbon maintains a very respectful tone throughout, for the most part – unusual for him – of course the footnoes are consistenly caustic

    Qualities of Mohammed
  • Handsome, intelligent, well-liked
  • Illiterate and knowledgeable about the Arabian peninsula, but not about much else outside of Arabia

    One God – Monotheism
  • Gibbon shows why Muslims consider Christianity to be a perversion of the faith – ie – one god

    Tenets of Islam
  • 124,000 Elect
  • 313 Apostles
  • 104 volumes
  • 6 legislators – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Mohammed

    Muslim View of Christianity
  • Jesus a prophet
  • Gibbon maintains Koran was 1st version of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and elevation of Mary
  • Jesus was not physically crucified, but was physically translated to heaven as a prophet
  • Gibbon mentions the famous “prediction” of Mohammed (which means Praise in Arabic) in the gospel of John – confounding of the perikletos (the comforter in Greek, the name for the holy spirit) versus the Periklutos (the praised one in Greek, which is the misspelled word sometimes used to show John predicted Moh birth 550 years prior to Mohammed) – obviously a very very old argument by the time Gibbon was writing about it


    Islam Star and Crescent



    The Apostle John Predicts Mohammed’s Birth


    In the long annals of literary battle between Christians and muslims much ink has obviously been spilled on both sides. But I had never heard of this before.

    The Holy Spirit is called the Paraclete in Greek – the Comforter – from para + kletos (called to help) (see Wiktionary). Para + klutos (called to fame) was the (mistaken) reading when translated into Arabic – a simple substition of the Greek letter e (η, eta) for u (υ upsilon). Thus, the name Mohammed (based on the word “praise” in Arabic) finds a prophetic precursor in the Christian gospels.

    Holy Spirit as a dove

    Or This…

    This from Gibbon:

    During six hundred years the gospel was the way of truth and salvation; but the Christians insensibly forgot both the laws and example of their founder; and Mahomet was instructed by the Gnostics to accuse the church, as well as the synagogue, of corrupting the integrity of the sacred text. (89) The piety of Moses and of Christ rejoiced in the assurance of a future prophet, more illustrious than themselves: the evangelical promise of the Paraclete, or Holy Ghost, was prefigured in the name, and accomplished in the person, of Mahomet, (90) the greatest and the last of the apostles of God.

    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, p.180)

    and the footnote

    Among the prophecies of the Old and New Testament, which are perverted by the fraud or ignorance of the Mussulmans, they apply to the prophet the promise of the Paraclete, or Comforter, which had been already usurped by the Montanists and Manichaeans, (Beausobre, Hist. Critique du Manicheisme, tom. i. p. 263, etc.); and the easy change of letters, for affords the etymology of the name of Mohammed (Maracci, tom. i. part i. p. 15 – 28.).

    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, p.180, fn 90)

    Image of Blessed Virgin Mary

    Image of Blessed Virgin Mary


    The Immaculate Conception as a Koranic Innovation


    Gibbon makes the un-surprising (from a Gibbonian, Anglican point of view) that Mary’s Immaculate Conception is not only suspect, if not entirely false (obviously, since it’s Catholic and originates in the Latin Church), but that it actually stems from an Arabic, Islamic tradition. Well, at least Gibbon finds “dark hints” of an Islamic tradition.

    This from Gibbon:

    The miraculous story of Moses is consecrated and embellished in the Koran; and the captive Jews enjoy the secret revenge of imposing their own belief on the nations whose recent creeds they deride. For the author of Christianity, the Mahometans are taught by the prophet to entertain a high and mysterious reverence. “Verily, Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, is the apostle of God, and his word, which he conveyed unto Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from him; honourable in this world, and in the world to come, and one of those who approach near to the presence of God.”

    The wonders of the genuine and apocryphal gospels are profusely heaped on his head; and the Latin church has not disdained to borrow from the Koran the immaculate conception (87) of his virgin mother. Yet Jesus was a mere mortal; and, at the day of judgment, his testimony will serve to condemn both the Jews, who reject him as a prophet, and the Christians, who adore him as the Son of God. The malice of his enemies aspersed his reputation, and conspired against his life; but their intention only was guilty; a phantom or a criminal was substituted on the cross; and the innocent saint was translated to the seventh heaven.

    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, p.180)

    and the footnote

    Footnote 87
    It is darkly hinted in the Koran, (c. 3, p. 39,) and more clearly explained by the tradition of the Sonnites, (Sale’s Note, and Maracci, tom. ii. p. 112.) In the xiith century, the immaculate conception was condemned by St. Bernard as a presumptuous novelty, (Fra Paolo, Istoria del Concilio di Trento, l. ii.)

    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, p.180, fn 87)



    what I’m thinking through right now


    Last Word…


    On the Unforeseen Difficulties Upon Firing up Long-Disused Historical Neurons


    I had totally forgotten how exhausting getting all this together for a blog could be – let alone getting the old dusty, forgotten corners of my mind interested in arcane historical trivia up and running and in good working order again.

    Its funny how distant history can seem to the everyday happenings of our ordinary work-a-day world, let alone the opinions of historians dead for two centuries. But its worth it, just for the physical and emotional pain of getting the whole mental process started again. Like running an hour on a treadmill, or doing a long day on the benches in the free-weight room – it’s just good for you. And then getting your thoughts out through the keyboard and into the Edit pane of your WordPress Blog screen – well, I tell you – its a growth experience. Gibbonian Exposition: it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

    The real hero of course, isn’t the writer writing it, it’s the person reading it. Meaning you.

    till next time…

    Posted by: ken98 | October 13, 2011

    Posted: A Reduction in Speed

    Day 762 – Ken here (Th)(10-13-2011)

    How I Make Decisions - the Magic Eight Ball

    How I Make Decisions - the Magic Eight Ball

    We will, for the time being, as we come into the holiday season and also a season/time I expect will not be the very best energy-wise and health-wise for me, be slowing down a bit. I’m aiming for a kind of Monday/Thursday 2-day-a-week post for a couple of months – then we’ll see. I may disappear entirely once more. Then again, I may not.

    The Magic Eight Ball says “It is decidedly so” – (kind of sounds like the Eight Ball is reciting a catechism, doesn’t it?) and I always listen to my Magic Eight Ball. Religiously.


    onwards, in the days to come, into the next 150 pages or so of Muslim/Arabic history and More Arabian Gibbonian-ness-ness…

    A relative snail's pace

    We'll be Slowing Down Some - like 2 posts a week

    And the inevitable Road Sign

    And so we end with The Inevitable Road Sign

    Day 761 – Ken here (W)(10-12-2011)
    (DEF III, v.5, Ch.49, pp.140-150)(pages read: 2180)

    Modern Coat of Arms of the City of Rome

    Modern Coat of Arms of the City of Rome - Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall is turning into (at least in the West) a history of the CITY OF ROME - and since ROME (City of) had connections and dealings with ALL EUROPE (esp France, Germany, later Spain) Gibbon follows Rome through all of this - I expect he will continue his History of the City down to his present day of 1788

    We end today the Grab-Bag chapter 49 of Gibbon, with a long account (mostly extremely medieval, and pointedly 18th century) of the German Empire. I have to say, I am more than somewhat uninterested – we are far, far away from Roman history, except to follow the medieval history of the medieval city of Rome.

    I suppose, however, since Rome was at the center of much medieval political maneuvering – ie the Papacy, Crusades, Coronation of Holy Roman Emperors, playground of the larger European Powers (Germany, France, Eastern Europeans, and yes, the Eastern Empire), Gibbon is well within his bounds to discuss the ongoing politics of the City of Rome in the previous 8 centuries before he wrote the last volume of the Decline and Fall in 1788.

    So, he’s entitled – I admit it – but the 3rd Volume is NOT REALLY (at times) Roman history, and NOT REALLY the history of the Decline and Fall of Rome anymore. It’s more like the history of a half-abandoned city-patient on continuous, low-level life-support for a period of 10 centuries – not a history of Romans, but a history of the people who VISITED the Romans during her long, protracted and eventful convalescence.

    But that’s my take on the purview of his historical writing. His is different. I remember, of course, his initial youthful thesis statement (one he may have later regretted as it turned out to be a multi-decade, titanic endeavor and promptly consumed his professional life) – his aim always WAS (so many years before, to the tuneful ministrations of un-shod mendicants) to present to his readers a history of the Decline of the City of Rome, and to that end he disingenuously mixes the histories of the Empire with those of the City:

    It was Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.

    (Memoirs, Gibbon 1796)

    Modern flag of the City of Rome

    Modern flag of the City of Rome - I guess I expected an eagle on it or something - but the colors are great - typically style-conscious, fashionable, hip Italian design

    I’ve actually started having problems referring to Rome in this 3rd volume (last 1000 pages of the 3000 pages) for a very telling reason – the one I’ve alluded to above – Gibbon has started writing concurrently about both Romans (the citizens of the City of Medieval Rome) and Romans of the Eastern Empire (people he calls by the derogatory title “Greeks” or “Byzantines”.)

    Since I refer to the people of the empire centered around Constantinople as Romans (as, of course, they, and their neighbors thought they WERE – ie the Roman State and the Roman People), still, I have difficulty talking about a Roman (City of) revolt against Roman (Empire of) authority in the same sentence, or even the same paragraph. It just gets too confusing – so I end up using the strange term Eastern Romans as a crude, compromising alternative.

    And as I loathe the awkward adjective Byzantine (somewhat like bizarrely calling the United States – “New Amsterdammer”, by referring to a large city in the U.S. (New York) and using an ancient, long-disused name of that large city (New Amsterdam) to refer to an entire country) – there just ends up being a great deal of possible confusion. In my mind however, “Roman” is the Eastern Empire and Constantinople, not the half-deserted, farm-town on the Tyber that happens to be the home of numerous Cardinals and one very important Bishop.

    But enough of my endless whining and complaining and back to someone really interesting: Gibbon and (finally) the petering out and final end of chapter 49…

    The Story
    Dark Age Rome – Local Rulers – Alberic of Spoleto (932) and Marozia
  • Although Gibbon may have gotten the story a little confused – the famous Roman sisters Marozia (or Maria) and Theodora (poss Marozia’s mother Theodora) – Marioza marries (3rd marriage) Hugh of Burgundy – holder of Rome and is a power in Rome, after her son Alberic (1st marr) revolts against his new stepfather and assumes Roman power for 20 years – making and unmaking the next 3 popes
  • Marozia’s brother becomes Pope John XI, her son Pope John XII (967)
  • Marozia – much maligned by Liutprand of Cremona (Lombard historian middle 900’s) – she was made senator (senatrix) – her rule called the pornocracy since she was (of course, as a powerful woman) seen as a prostitute and evil

    Consul Crescentius (998)
  • “Consul” of Rome (998) he twice was governor of the city
  • conspired to restore Eastern Roman control of city, put to death by Otto III
  • Cresc’s widow poisons Otto in retaliation
  • It’s really hard to know what’s fairy tale and what’s true in all this 10th cent “history”

    Kingdom of Italy (774-1250)
  • After the Carolingian era, the cities of N. Italy are left technically part of the German Empire, but actually pretty much alone, esp after the fall of the 2 Fredericks
  • Frederick I (1152-1190) Barbarossa (or Red Beard) – one of my favorites – Holy Roman Emperor – invades, tries to act as emperor in Italy (the re-discovery of Justinian’s Pandects inspire him to be absolute ruler, as Justinian saw himself 700 years earlier), but the League of Lombardy (Cities, Pope, Eastern Romans) defeat him
  • Frederick II (1198-1250) – Another one of my favorites – I like BOTH FREDERIKS – He has all of N. and S. Italy – tried to reign in Italy, is defeated by the Lombard League, beheaded at Naples – end of German attempts at ruling Italy for 60 years – ALSO THE BEGINNING OF THE RENAISSANCE – a curious coincidence that
  • I NOTE WITH PLEASURE that Frederick II DID NOT participate in the 4th Crusade – the one that siezed and conquered Constantinople and brought about the Latin Empire from 1204-1261 – OF COURSE, BEING ONLY 6 YEARS OLD HELPED A GREAT DEAL – still the 4th was mostly French as it turned out – French and Venetian

    Free Germany (814-1250)
  • German possessions in the East of the Carolingians began to make their own way in the world, separate from the Western Frankish home-lands
  • The German Constitution (ca. 1250) – after death of Fred II, Germany dissolves into a hundred principalities, archbishoprics, etc – the 7 most powerful are the ELECTORS of the EMPEROR – 4 temporal, 3 spiritual – King of Bohemia, Duke of Saxony, Margrave of Brandenburg, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and the Archbishops of Mentz, Treves, Cologne
  • Cities, Leagues develop – and Germany develops from the Ground up in a kind of disorganized fashion – something Gibbon heartily approves of as the English Constitution is one of improvisation based on longstanding custom – pretty much the same as Germany’s – REMEMBER at this very PRE-BISMARCK point (1780’s), Germany is still split into a hundred pieces – not unified for another 100 years or so

    Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (1347-1378)
  • Gibbon notes his weakness and poverty – but doesn’t talk about the Golden Bull (1356) – Charles IV regulating the German Succession – detailed above in the “Constitution”
  • We are so FAR AWAY from ROMAN HISTORY at this point – except for the King of Rome stuff – that I hesitate even to include this


    Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (Red Beard) from the Welf Chronicle

    Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (Red Beard) from the Welf Chronicle

    Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II - grandson of Barbarossa

    Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II - grandson of Barbarossa - one of the most powerful monarchs of the Middle Ages - an incredible man - the Stupor Mundi (wonder of the world) to some, the AntiChrist to others (like the Pope, esp when he was fighting the Pope AND WINNING) who met with a horrible end in Naples and he and his house disappeared, possibly causing the disunity of Germany to be prolonged for centuries



    Quotable Gibbon – Gibbon’s Idea of Good Government (Well, Good Empire)


    It’s interesting to hear the views of one English Gentleman (living ex-pat on the Continent) and his views of what is required to maintain and expand a well-run empire.

    In and introduction to the Medieval German Empire – the Holy Roman Empire – and especially its relations with Italy, Gibbon lists some necessary qualities an empire ought to have to keep its subject members in control. I can’t help not only hearing Gibbon speak of the nascent British Empire and its polyglot, globe-straddling patchwork quilt of loosely held and mixed jurisdictions over subject peoples. I’m also hearing the English gentleman’s views on how one ought to properly hold onto the colonies – esp the North American ones south of the St. Lawrence that are getting a little too uppity for their own good.

    Gibbon goes on to describe the rise of the City-States in Italy, which he is honor-bound and tradition-bound to LOVE. Gibbon, after all was/is a classical student, an English gentleman and an admiring reader of Greek democratic authors – Thucydides, etc – who are taught to praise small freedom-loving city-states and denigrate imperial (read: Persian, Eastern) slavery, luxury, and depravity.

    Which is all to the good. But it is pure Gibbon that he is in the unenviable position of defending empire (the current one, the English one) and at the same time defending the rise of the small City-State (presumably, England is an example of the eventual development of the freedom-loving City-State into the Magna-Carta-Loving British Empire). That he is unconscious of the conflict between loving the small City-States of Italy and disparaging the German Empire, and being rabidly pro-British-Empire and against the small states encompassed by them

    So here is Gibbon on empire:

    How to Run an Empire: Inspiring Fear Without Provoking Discontent and Despair

    There is nothing perhaps more adverse to nature and reason than to hold in obedience remote countries and foreign nations, in opposition to their inclination and interest. A torrent of Barbarians may pass over the earth, but an extensive empire must be supported by a refined system of policy and oppression; in the centre, an absolute power, prompt in action and rich in resources; a swift and easy communication with the extreme parts; fortifications to check the first effort of rebellion; a regular administration to protect and punish; and a well-disciplined army to inspire fear, without provoking discontent and despair.

    Far different was the situation of the German Caesars, who were ambitious to enslave the kingdom of Italy. Their patrimonial estates were stretched along the Rhine, or scattered in the provinces; but this ample domain was alienated by the imprudence or distress of successive princes; and their revenue, from minute and vexatious prerogative, was scarcely sufficient for the maintenance of their household. Their troops were formed by the legal or voluntary service of their feudal vassals, who passed the Alps with reluctance, assumed the license of rapine and disorder, and capriciously deserted before the end of the campaign. Whole armies were swept away by the pestilential influence of the climate: the survivors brought back the bones of their princes and nobles, and the effects of their own intemperance were often imputed to the treachery and malice of the Italians, who rejoiced at least in the calamities of the Barbarians.

    This irregular tyranny might contend on equal terms with the petty tyrants of Italy; nor can the people, or the reader, be much interested in the event of the quarrel. But in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Lombards rekindled the flame of industry and freedom; and the generous example was at length imitated by the republics of Tuscany. In the Italian cities a municipal government had never been totally abolished; and their first privileges were granted by the favour and policy of the emperors, who were desirous of erecting a plebeian barrier against the independence of the nobles. But their rapid progress, the daily extension of their power and pretensions, were founded on the numbers and spirit of these rising communities

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.49, p.142)

    The Mythical Female Pope - Pope Joan - riding the many-headed beast as the Whore of Babylon

    The Mythical Female Pope - Pope Joan - riding the many-headed beast as the Whore of Babylon - Gibbon thinks the origin of the story is the strong Roman noble woman Marozia of the middle 900's - supposedly Pope Joan hid her sex until after she was elected Pope, but was found out when she gave birth while riding a horse through the City of Rome and was torn to shreds by the rightfully indignant Roman mob - a very strange misogynistic fable



    The Whore of Babylon

    Gibbon wonders aloud whether the medieval legend of Pope Joan was the (in)famous Roman woman-Senator Marozia (see below). The whole Pope-Joan-Portable-Latrine controversies probably have a lot more to do with Protestant mud-slinging, anti-woman rants than they do with anything approaching a historical question. But for the record:

    Here is the story from WIKI:

    First, Wiki’s Conclusion:

    Against the weight of historical evidence to the contrary, the question remains as to why the Pope Joan story has been so often believed and revisited. Some, such as Philip Jenkins in The New Anti-Catholicism, have suggested that the periodic revival of what he calls this “anti-papal legend” has more to do with feminist and anti-Catholic wishful thinking than historical accuracy

    and now, the story…

    Pope Joan is a legendary female Pope who, it is purported, reigned for a few years some time in the Middle Ages. The story first appeared in the writings of 13th-century chroniclers, and subsequently spread through Europe. It was widely believed for centuries, though modern historians and religious scholars consider it fictitious, perhaps deriving from historicized folklore regarding Roman monuments or from anti-papal satire.

    The first mention of the female pope appears in the chronicle of Jean Pierier de Mailly, but the most popular and influential version was that interpolated into Martin of Troppau’s Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum somewhat later in the 13th century. Most versions say that she was a talented and learned woman who disguised herself as a man, often at the behest of a lover. Due to her abilities, she rises through the church hierarchy, eventually being chosen as pope. However, while riding on horseback one day, she gives birth to a child, thus revealing her sex. In most versions, she dies shortly after, either by being killed by an angry mob or from natural causes, and her memory is shunned by her successors.

    The earliest mention of the female pope appears in the Dominican Jean de Mailly’s chronicle of Metz, Chronica Universalis Mettensis, written in the early 13th century. In his telling, the female pope is not named, and the events are set in 1099.

    According to Jean:

    Query. Concerning a certain Pope or rather female Pope, who is not set down in the list of Popes or Bishops of Rome, because she was a woman who disguised herself as a man and became, by her character and talents, a curial secretary, then a Cardinal and finally Pope. One day, while mounting a horse, she gave birth to a child. Immediately, by Roman justice, she was bound by the feet to a horse’s tail and dragged and stoned by the people for half a league, and, where she died, there she was buried, and at the place is written: ‘Petre, Pater Patrum, Papisse Prodito Partum’ [Oh Peter, Father of Fathers, Betray the childbearing of the woman Pope]. At the same time, the four-day fast called the “fast of the female Pope” was first established” (Jean de Mailly, Chronica Universalis Mettensis).

    Jean de Mailly’s story was picked up by his fellow Dominican Etienne de Bourbon, who adapted it for his work on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. However, the legend gained its greatest prominence when it appeared in the third recension (edited revision) of Martin of Opava’s Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum later in the 13th century. This version, which may have been by Martin himself, is the first to attach a name to the figure, indicating that she was known as “John Anglicus” or “John of Mainz.” It also changes the date from the 11th to the 9th century, indicating that Joan reigned between Leo IV and Benedict III in the 850s.

    According to the Chronicon:

    John Anglicus, born at Mainz, was Pope for two years, seven months and four days, and died in Rome, after which there was a vacancy in the Papacy of one month. It is claimed that this John was a woman, who as a girl had been led to Athens dressed in the clothes of a man by a certain lover of hers. There she became proficient in a diversity of branches of knowledge, until she had no equal, and, afterward in Rome, she taught the liberal arts and had great masters among her students and audience. A high opinion of her life and learning arose in the city; and she was chosen for Pope. While Pope, however, she became pregnant by her companion. Through ignorance of the exact time when the birth was expected, she was delivered of a child while in procession from St Peter’s to the Lateran, in a lane once named Via Sacra (the sacred way) but now known as the “shunned street” between the Colisseum and St Clement’s church. After her death, it is said she was buried in that same place. The Lord Pope always turns aside from the street, and it is believed by many that this is done because of abhorrence of the event. Nor is she placed on the list of the Holy Pontiffs, both because of her female sex and on account of the foulness of the matter (Martin of Opava, Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum).

    One version of the Chronicon gives an alternate fate for the female pope. According to this, she did not die immediately after her exposure as female but was confined and deposed, after which she did many years of penance. Her son from the affair eventually became Bishop of Ostia, and had her interred in his cathedral when she died.

    Other references to the female pope are attributed to earlier writers, though none appear in manuscripts that predate the Chronicon. The one most commonly cited is attached to Anastasius Bibliothecarius (d. 886), a compiler of Liber Pontificalis, who would have been a contemporary of the female Pope by the Chronicon’s dating. However, the story is found in only one unreliable manuscript of Anastasius. This manuscript, in the Vatican Library, bears the relevant passage inserted as a footnote at the bottom of a page, out of sequence, and in a different hand, one that dates from after the time of Martin von Troppau. This “witness” to the female Pope is likely to be based upon Martin’s account, and not a possible source for it. The same is true of Marianus Scotus’s Chronicle of the Popes, a text written in the 11th century. Some manuscripts of it contain a brief mention of a female Pope named Joanna (the earliest source to attach to her the female form of the name), but all these manuscripts are, again, later than Martin’s work. Earlier manuscripts do not contain the legend.

    ( from Pope Joan WIKI)

    Sedes Stercoraria (the Dung Chair) or the Slotted Chair, or Chair With A Hole In It

    Sedes Stercoraria (the Dung Chair) or the Slotted Chair, or Chair With A Hole In It - supposedly used to check either the sex of the Pope, or whether or not he was castrated - both titillating in a kind of simplistic suspension-of-disbelief kind of way, but ultimately nonsensical - the truth is stranger than the fiction - the chair was probably a leftover imperial birthing stool, or a portable latrine, and was sat in (briefly) by Popes at some time during their coronation (in the Lateran) to show imperial legitimacy - probably the Popes in question (and their cardinals who pushed for it to happen) had NO IDEA why THEY WERE FORCING the HEAD OF THEIR CHURCH to sit in such a thing - traditions die hard and are usually illogical - a Pope from our time period (800's) would need EVERY KIND OF IMPERIAL PROPAGANDA NECESSARY to ensure a smooth transition of power - even if it meant SITTING ON A FORMER IMPERIAL LATRINE - the 2 surviving examples are in the Vatican and the Louvre

    The Strange History of the Holy Portable Latrine – Sedes Stercoraria

    The sedes stercoraria (defecation seats), the thrones with holes in it at St. John Lateran did indeed exist, and were used in the elevation of Pope Pascal II in 1099 (Boureau 1988). In fact, one is still in the Vatican Museums, another at the Musée du Louvre. They do indeed have a hole in the seat. The reason for the hole is disputed, but, as both the seats and their holes predated the Pope Joan story, they have nothing to do with a need to check the gender of a Pope. It has been speculated that they originally were Roman bidets or imperial birthing stools, which because of their age and imperial links were used in ceremonies by Popes intent on highlighting their own imperial claims (as they did also with their Latin title, Pontifex Maximus).

    Alain Boureau (Boureau 1988:23) quotes the humanist Jacopo d’Angelo de Scarparia who visited Rome in 1406 for the enthronement of Gregory XII in which the Pope sat briefly on two “pierced chairs” at the Lateran: “the vulgar tell the insane fable that he is touched to verify that he is indeed a man” a sign that this corollary of the Pope Joan legend was still current in the Roman street.

    Medieval Popes, from the 13th century onward, did indeed avoid the direct route between the Lateran and St Peter’s, as Martin of Opava claimed. However, there is no evidence that this practice dated back any earlier, let alone that it originated in the 9th century as a deliberate rebuff to the memory of the female Pope. The origin of the practice is uncertain, but it is quite likely that it was maintained because of widespread belief in the Joan legend and that it was thought genuinely to date back to that period.

    (from Pope Joan WIKI)

    Supposed Illustration of the actual USE of the Slotted Chair or Dung Chair (Sedes Stercoraria)

    Illustration of the supposed USE of the Slotted Chair or Dung Chair (Sedes Stercoraria) - from an 18th cent print - this looks so much like a Protestant Propaganda print of Popish Demonic Insanity that it's a little hard to believe - I'm not sure what's going on - the title (in Latin) says - the Pontifical Marble Chair in the Lateran - but the chair looks nothing like the sedes stercoraria - also the Pope looks too much like a jolly Santa Claus, blessing everyone as his privates are massaged(?) by a Cardinal (who's saying something illegible) - this is a little like using a cartoon from the National Enquirer for historical evidence - but here it is - for some reason on the internet, lots of people have lots of opinions about the sedes - the truth (that they sat on it for imperial prestige) is actually a lot more interesting (to me) than the wild anti-Catholic tales - IMHO


    Last Word…


    Strong Women – Marozia – Sister, Mother of Popes, Senator of Rome – A Woman to be Reckoned With


    Marozia got nothing but bad press, her rule was called the pornocracy, and her power was highly suspect. It doesn’t help matters any that the historians who mention her are hostile (ex. Liutprand of Cremona – Lombard). At this distance it very hard to tell what’s going on. Gibbon, woman-hating Gibbon, well, powerful-woman-hating Gibbon (I’m sure he liked woman in general, as a sex, esp. for their decorative qualities) has a field day with Marozia (of course).

    On a tangential note, some suggest that Marozia is the vague historical precedent for Pope Joan – the shadowy female (and mythical) Medieval Pope.

    Here we see Gibbon introducing Marozia and her sister Theodora, (poss. getting Marozia’s sister Theodora mixed up with Marozia’s mother Theodora) as the “two sister prostitutes” – and then continuing from there…

    Powerful Women are Pontifically Insulting

    The Roman pontiffs, of the ninth and tenth centuries, were insulted, imprisoned, and murdered, by their tyrants; and such was their indigence, after the loss and usurpation of the ecclesiastical patrimonies, that they could neither support the state of a prince, nor exercise the charity of a priest. The influence of two sister prostitutes, Marozia and Theodora, was founded on their wealth and beauty, their political and amorous intrigues: the most strenuous of their lovers were rewarded with the Roman mitre, and their reign may have suggested to the darker ages the fable of a female pope.

    The bastard son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of Marozia, a rare genealogy, were seated in the chair of St. Peter, and it was at the age of nineteen years that the second of these became the head of the Latin church. His youth and manhood were of a suitable complexion; and the nations of pilgrims could bear testimony to the charges that were urged against him in a Roman synod, and in the presence of Otho the Great.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.49, pp.138-139)

    Marozia and Her Son Alberic

    Amidst the ruins of Italy, the famous Marozia invited one of the usurpers to assume the character of her third husband; and Hugh, king of Burgundy was introduced by her faction into the mole of Hadrian or Castle of St. Angelo, which commands the principal bridge and entrance of Rome. Her son by the first marriage, Alberic, was compelled to attend at the nuptial banquet; but his reluctant and ungraceful service was chastised with a blow by his new father.

    The blow was productive of a revolution. “Romans,” exclaimed the youth, “once you were the masters of the world, and these Burgundians the most abject of your slaves. They now reign, these voracious and brutal savages, and my injury is the commencement of your servitude.” The alarum bell rang to arms in every quarter of the city: the Burgundians retreated with haste and shame; Marozia was imprisoned by her victorious son, and his brother, Pope John XI., was reduced to the exercise of his spiritual functions.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.49, p.140)

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