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Everything posted by caldrail

  1. Fronto mentions significant losses in Britannia during a British rebellion. Hadrian arrives in the region shortly afterward and establishes the project to build a wall on the northern frontier, but there wasn't any mention of issues on that frontier at that time (how else was the large scale project able to be completed without pictish interdiction?). I suggest a possible if unlikely scenario. What if the IX Hispania had rebelled or mutinied in Britain?
  2. caldrail

    Seeing Is Believing

    A few nights ago I was walking home late at night along one of the main roads leading into the town centre. In the wee small hours you rarely see pedestrians, and the only movement is the odd hot hatch or police car. The amber street lights might be effective in lighting the dual carriageway but the grass verges are obscured in shadows and gloom. Okay, I do see urban foxes around there quite often, but on this night all was quiet. Hello, what's that in the grass? A plastic bag? The shredded remnants of a plastic crate? No... That's something else... Woah! A deer was lying among the uncut grass tufts. British deer are usually small, apart from those grand Scottish beasts, and usually very shy of us humans. This just lay there unconcerned. I stood watching it, little more than seven feet away, and it looked back at me. How odd! I shifted my weight and said hello, the deer moved a foreleg to enable a quick getaway, but it still didn't seem overly disturbed. A passing car gave a sudden stamp on the throttle - the deer reacted with something like the usual alertness, but it stayed put. I slowly walked around until I was squatting three feet away from this deer. Amazing. One of those strange unexpected meetings with nature. Look after yourself mate. Not far from there the week after I was again walking home on the same route, albeit not so near the town centre. Across the main road I saw an animal rush from one side to the other whilst traffic was non-existent. A cat? No, legs are too short. Oh heck - it's a black rat, and not exactly small either. What a beast! I've only seen two other black rats in Swindon, one dead, the other lurking around the back yard at home. Most rats we get in Swindon - a town somewhat notorious for its rat population - are the ordinary but unwanted brown variety. Can't say I was thrilled to see the rat however. So pleased I didn't encounter it up close. You heard It Here it's been great recently to see the planets in the night sky. Venus was especially bright.... heck that was close. An electric car swished by with barely a sound. It's getting really dangerous to be a pedestrian these days. Human eyesight isn't totally reliable to keep you from harm, and the days of noisy exhausts are numbered. Gazing up at the heavens isn't quite so safe anymore. All Corona'd Out The endless discussion in the evening news about the Coronavirus epidemic is getting wearisome. Funnily enough, a colleague at work had asked me how I felt about it. Restrictions on life are nothing new to me so I suppose I just take lockdowns, tiers, and self isolation as they come. But it saddens me that our lives are now so dominated that the daily news broadcasts have become the Coronavirus Show. Oh yes. I forgot that unnecessary war in the Caucasus. Or that Europe hasn't persuaded Britain to maintain the economic status quo. Or that Trump wants another term of office to prove how fantastic he is now that he has survived the disease he once scoffed at.
  3. caldrail

    Augustan History

    Actually that's wrong. The original frontier was littler more than a heavily patrolled road. Hadrian had the famous wall built as part of his Romanising polcy, and the Antonine wall was a later temporary advance into the north to qualify Antoninus Pius as Imperator. The frontier would revert to Hadrian's Wall. The Antonine Wall was hardly ignored - the archeology is pretty obvious, but the historic significance was less and lacked popular appeal compared to the much more manicured hadrianic effort.
  4. caldrail

    The Roman Empire reborn?

    The city of Rome might seem essential but history proves otherwise, as the Romans created or moved capitals whenever they felt the need. Latin would not be necessary either since the lingua franca of the historical empire was Greek. Since religion only became 'official' in the empire to support political unity in the 4th century, one can readily see why such a move might re-appear. A new government could entitle whoever they like as citizens. Slavery has never gone away. I don't like the current rend for demonising the past (witness Colston's statue getting a dip in the harbour courtesy of an angry mob) - it's moral cowardice attacking statues that never represented slavery anyway. Attacking slavers is a bit harder. You have to find them and when you do, they might well get aggressive and indeed might come well-armed.
  5. caldrail

    Persistance of Roman foot measurements

    The reason that french tvs are measured in inches diagonally is because that's an industry standard. The measure is irrelevant as such - merely it describes the size in relation to others. That said, I do note that Brussels appears not have noticed, and the French are notorious for their distaste of English terms creeping into their language.
  6. caldrail

    Hello World

    Hello World, my old friend, I've come to talk to you again. I write this not from the Library (who stubbornly refuse to open despite everybody else trying to restore some normailty to their lives) but a pokey little internet cafe which I might have to frequent more often. But it means I can say hello to the survivors of our post apocalyptic world, assuming I'm not being over optimistic. A Floating Map A visit some while ago to my local park was a peaceful scene. Nobody about at all, given Swindon was in lockdown back then. Out on the lake, I spotted a mass of algae on the water, shaped remarkably like England, Wales, and Scotland. The resemblance was uncanny. Right. That's it. Anecdote over. That didn't hurt did it? Bye For Now Haven't got time to do a proper blog entry but memoirs of my covid experience will follow eventually. Why not? The BBC have been broadcasting everybodies elses. And on the subject of the BBC, yes, the exam result fiasco is a mess. We got that. It isn't news any more. Move on. Please.
  7. caldrail

    Did Masters Ever Marry Slaves for Love?

    , Yes, but only after they had been manumitted. Other examples are masters buying back sold slaves because they just could not live without them. The Romans regard 'love' as something akin to emotional slavery but they were human and fell in love with each other just like anyone else. The problem for women was that social mores were more restricted. Whereas men had some freedom of action women were not so liberated and association with slaves, probably including freedmen, would have been the source of scandal (thougha minority in the early principate did it it anyway). However, it is true that women of status or elite family sometimes bribed a lanista to visit their favourite gladiator.Lust rather than love mostly, I guess, but it illustrates how women got around the barriers.
  8. Not with any formailty. The Romans often rewarded veterans with plots of land on retirement or disbandment - though please note the quality of land was often less than desirable and indeed was listed among the gripes of the mutinies after the death of Augustus. Late empire soldiers often worked the local farms to earn a living in the absence of military pay and some would have bought small farms for themselves and their families.
  9. A lot depends on certain aspects. Who was leading the barbarians? Did they prepare for battle? Which barbarians are involved? Men who live by the sword evolve a certain survival instinct hard won by experience. No guarantee they wouldn't be killed of course, but fighting is a skill that requires long practice to be any good at it (though most of us blokes don't like admitting it). Common sense tactics? Whether something is common sense often depends on perspective. Charging headlong at the enemy line might not be sensible but it could get results if you rattle the enemy or break his morale quickly enough. It's also favoured by the wilder warrior types for that very reason. Of course, there are examples of barbarians getting very clever against Rome - witness the Varian Disaster of ad9.
  10. caldrail

    Postcards From The Car Park

    Hi there. It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog so I thought I’d let the world know I’m not a statistic. Just an hour or two ago I noticed my everyday supplies of daily essentials was running a little low. Nothing for it but to risk a journey to the local supermarket. What could possibly go wrong? As soon as I approached I saw a car park full of vehicles manoevering for entrance, space, and exit. Shoppers playing dodgems with trolleys packed with everything they never needed before but might during our current Coronavirus emergency. Inside it was as bad, with crowds of agitated shoppers queuing for space in the queues or perhaps that last morsel still on the shelf. Stand aside old lady, that packet of barbeque pork make-your-own –casserole is mine! Or at least it will be in the event I actually get close to a till. An old gentleman waddled at a ridiculous pace, reaching between queues to grab whatever caught his eye. One gets the impression he hasn’t moved that fast since Hitler’s goons were shooting at him. Another mature gent turned to someone he knew and said “How did we ever cope in the war?” We had rationing books back then. Time On My Hands I’ve been sent home. My employer can’t give me anything to do because the company we supply has sent everyone home because everyone is quarantined at home in China and not producing stuff we need to supply our manufacturing customer. At least I’m still on full pay. I can afford the stuff that isn’t on the shelves because some old lady grabbed it first. And now I have the time to wrestle her for it too. Numpties of the Week This coveted award goes not to the shoppers of rainy old Swindon, but the media companies telling us about Coronavirus, especially the BBC, whose obsessional focus on single issues has turned a matter of concern into the fall of civilisation as we know it. Hang on… No. I’ve changed my mind. The award goes to American citizens who, faced with panic buying and shortages of goods in stores, have taken to queuing up outside gun stores instead. Trump, you have made America great.
  11. Part of this issue is the current trend in the media which has lasted for a couple of decades now to highlight similarities between our time and the Roman era. That's all well and good, but it ignores the more important differences. As much as Trump likes to praise his country and citizens for strength, success, and world respect (one has to recognise a certain degree of political spin in that), America is a - from our perspective at least - a deeply divided nation that is trying to on the one hand to promote devisive issues yet limit their division on society. One could say something similar about Britain I guess, but the issues are somewhat more polarised in America. Ethnic and cultural presence, historical identities, isolationism, and all the modern 'rights'. it is very notable that the American press still defines their civil war of the 19th century in terms of slavery which study reveals to be an issue that was not at the heart of many combatants, nor was Abraham Lincoln the freedom activist he's commonly portrayed as (which proves how successful political spin can be). The issue of parallels however is more interesting because what we recognise is not necessarily situational but actually behavioural. Instinctively we tend to empathise, rightly or wrongly, with the mtives and actions of Romans, seeing these parallels not because of what they actually did or the circumstances that drove them to act, but instead the emotions and reactions familiar to us in our daily lives. Their emphasis was different. Their cultural boundaries also. But they were human beings, thus we recognise them.
  12. caldrail

    Big money and fall

    it doesn't seem likely to me. Money was a major factor in Roman society from the beginning of the Republican period - it was how status was graded. Although patricians weren't supposed to muddy their hands in tawdry business deals they naturally used proxies, allies, freedmen, or slaves, to do that for them. The economy of Rome was faltering toward the end and corruption was, as ever, the bugbear of this money-mad system. However, the 'fall' of Rome was more complex. It had elements of weakening military power, diluted public patriotism/identity, and a considerable lack of determination. Sermons from the late empire describe Romans (in exaggeration of course) as lazy, hedonistic, corrupt, even cowardly. I prefer the argument made below.... In the end, though, all the countless pages of speculation about why the border collapsed, paticularly in the west, amount to one simple fact: the empire grew old. Adapt though it might, its mechanisms for dealing with with change gradually became set and atrophied, its military 'immune system' needed more and more help from outside, and finally - faced with new generations of vigorous neighbours, who had borrowed from the empire what they needed to give their political system and their cultures strength and coherence - it died of old age. The Empire Stops Here (Philipp Parker)
  13. Before we get carried away with the colour purple, there was no official ruling that 'Emperors' should have a purple toga, though purple was a privilege of the elite classes - an expensive one mind you. Senators had a broad purple stripe on their toga, and red dye was often used to simulate purple by excessive use. There was of course no actual job called 'Emperor'. When an individual asserted himself via politics, subterfuge, or simply marched in with an army, he was made the highest in social status - I cannot stress enough how important that was, because the Romans were intensely sensitive to their privileges and status. They would receive magisterial powers, possibly even posts in actuality, and normally recieve a military honour of Imperator, or 'Victorious General'. In fact, they liked the latter title so much they tended to use it to describe the collective authority they wielded, so much so that the word became synonymous with power and from it we derive the word Emperor in modern times - but Emperor and Imperator are actually two different things. Caligula for instance attended the games on one occaision and in the visitor VIP stand opposite, he saw a foreign king wearing a very impressive purple cloak. Deeply envious and offended, he had the hapless monarch executed for his indiscretion.
  14. One should not paint Roman legions with modern expectations. Whilst some of their behaviour was utterly predictable and quite similar to modern militaries, there were aspects that are quite different. Enslavement was a loss of humanity in one sense and marked one for life. The legions would not recruit former or runaway slaves and dire punishments awaited those found to have lied about their social status. When Augustus raised emergency forces from manumitted slaves in ad9, regular legionaries would not serve alongside these third class troops, and they were not armed with regular Roman equipment deliberately. The question of contract gladiators - this became a common practice for those seeking fame, fortune, or to avoid debt by desperate means. Nonetheless, gladiators were slaves, even the temporary ones. It is entirely possible that an ex-gladiator joined up here and there - I doubt he would have broadcast his past. You do raise an interesting point on this as there is bound to be something of a grey area. Roman slave law wasn't exactly simple either as the questions of status and rights got hugely complex from the Principate onward. Of course there would have been contests between soldiers being the aggressive competitive types that successful colonisers produce. But keep it in context. An arm wrestle between two soldiers out on the booze isn't going to offend anyone. Gymnastics? Isn't that getting a little Greek? Trust me, Roman military practice was sufficient to keep them fit. A weekly route march, twice daily at the palus with heavier practice swords and shields, and if we believe Josephus, staged brawls in formation to build character as much as physical condition. Add to that the possibility of hard physical labour all day if a local civil engineering project required lots of manual labourers the contractors could not afford. having said that, the typical Roman soldier was keen to avoid physical stuff as much as he could, usually by bribing his centurion (this was later frowned upon but never stopped. In fact, the practice of bribing a centurion for extra leave was later countered by a bonus paid to the centurion for any of his soldiers sent on leave officially) Don't be misled by Vegetius. His De Re Militaris is often described as a manual - it wasn't anything of the sort. he wrote a treatise about what the legions should be doing, after finding lots of good but unique examples of activity in the histories he had available (better than ours, for completeness if not accuracy). He says as much in the preface.
  15. I would definitely give saints the status of stand-ins for deified individuals. In a pagan Rome, making gods of the deceased was a breeze, all it required was a senatorial decree. Once christian, there can be only one god, so how do you continue to honour the dead? Make saints of them instead.
  16. Roman legionaries fought in specific styles. If we consider legionaries of the Gallic Wars, then they are using a weapon in the right hand - either a pilum or a gladius, as required - and a tall rectangular shield in the other. The shield is not exactly light, and Roman soldiers were punished if they dropped it. Of course the shield might well be used to impact an opponent, or if the soldier is quick witted enough, possibly even the edge might have seen some creative use unless the ranks were still well ordered. In that era, soldiers were quite rigid in formation, always standing shoulder to shoulder with training to stab with the gladius at the face, legs, or lower torso of their opponent using the gap between shields (a more open style of fighting was a later development). I suppose in desperation or aggression soldiers might well try anything especially if seperated from their companions, but Arrian records a fight between legions in which pushing and stabbing went on for a while before both units withdrew a short distance to regain their breath (where's the balletic changeover depicted in Rome?), before rushing back into the fray, neither side relenting, repeating this until one or the other side broke due to exhaustion or casualties. Some fighting tricks were taught by gladiators, and some moves were added to the standard canon such as a kneeling upward thrust, but remember the context of the legionaries equipment and fighting styles.
  17. And now for something completely different. Rock guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen and his album playing classical-esque music with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. It actually does work. Not for everyone, of course, but I rather like it.
  18. caldrail

    Augustan History

    Is that situation so unusual? When the Romans came to write the histories of their earliest times, they filled in the details themselves. Since their earliest history was unknown to them except the remembrance of major events, they constructed the past in the image of the world they knew. And if you care to notice, Roman writings are full of speeches credited to one historical individual or another but written by the book's author. Roman writers were keen to record the rise of their civilisation and lives of the famous, much as we would today, but they also wanted to write entertaining works that people wanted to read and praise the writer for. How much of Roman history can we be sure of? Truth is, we don't have much to corroborate it. We really are forced to take their word for things by and large.
  19. caldrail

    Seasonal Tidings

    Almost Christmas. I say that with a distinct sense of freedom and joy, not because it’s the festive season – Bah! Humbug! I say this because this year fate has spared me the usual barrage of Christmas songs. You know the ones I mean. All those songs that radio stations, supermarkets, and those not blessed with a sense of music play at this time every year ad nauseum. Hardly heard any of them this time around. Makes you feel good to be alive. A Noble Deed It’s going to be ten years since I became Lord Rail. All in all, it hasn’t impacted much on events, other than making a few people rather critical of me, including a couple of claims advisors, one of whom actually swore at me in public when I politely made him aware of my new found status. Another claims advisor attempted to crush my title out of significance with rather less rude language. They both failed. What next for the Caldrail autobiography? What can I do to offend conformity, advance the cause of individualistic idiocy, and generally make life a bit more interesting than visiting supermarkets at Christmas? Hmmm… Let me think…. Adopting Nature May I introduce you to Ronald? He’s a robin, the red breasted variety (although they do seem a bit orange rather than actually red), and has taken up residence at my workplace. Haven’t a clue what he finds to eat, probably subsisting on leftover sweeties when things are quiet. No food on the shop floor please… Okay, the boss is gone. But this is a bumper time for Ronald, because rules go out the door at Christmas as the boss brings in boxes of chocolates to reward us for a year of dedicated hard work and constant gripes. Seeing as this was the festive season, I suggested the company adopt Ronald as a mascot. I have no idea what Ronald thinks of this honour. He flew away. How Not To Get Home My last shift before xmas is done! Yahoo! Can’t be bothered to walk home in the rain so I opt for a bus. As much as I detest buses, even I have to confess they do come in handy occaisionally, like going home after the last shift before xmas. You could tell it was the festive season. Whilst I normaly have to wait ages for a bus to arrive, I had no sooner gotten to the bus stop when my ride arrived. I’ve long since learned to take my backpack off before getting on, but this not being a patient driver, I stepped aboard, pad the fare, got the ticket, and found myself entangled in the straps as I struggled manfully to fit into the seats. Slipping on the wet floor, cursing at the lack of movement, the bus accelerating and braking like an entry at Le Mans, boy oh boy, that was a test of manhood. I;m pleased to say no-one made any sarky comment at all. They must have seen me struggle before. What? Last Christmas? Oh heck, please let this not become an annual ritual…. Mammalian Connection of the Week A little while ago I finished a late shift and as I often do, I stopped at a lonely bus stop to rest for ten minutes before walking four miles home. The bus schedule finished hours ago you see. So I was there, guzzling my energy drink which I keep handy for such occaisions, when movement down on the pavement caught my eye. A fox! Not really that unusual, certainly not in that area with plenty of supermarket refuse bins to forage for food. This one hadn’t seen me, trotting happily along the pavement, looking in good health and really picture postcard perfect condition. Then it noticed my surprise. When you surprise a fox like that, some scarper immediately. Others freeze until they decide to scarper. This one froze. But it was odd. I was looking straight into that foxes eyes and expected the usual look of startled horror at encountering a shabby tired out human being. I saw something else. Although alert and poised to move as instinct demanded, for just a brief moment it looked as the fox was wondering if it could approach in a friendly manner. Scrounger behaviour rather than genuine friendliness, I’ve seen squirrels adopt the same begging action, but the sensation of empathy however misinterpreted is genuinely a deeply rewarding experience. Instinct got the better of it and the fox scarpered. Happy Christmas, Mr Fox.
  20. caldrail

    When The Truth Doesn't Matter

    I wonder what qualifications are required to become a bus driver? Not that I'm especially interested myself, it's just that I witnessed two drivers changing shift discussing Schrodinger's Cat, a piece of scientific philosophy used to illustrate quantum uncertainty. Good grief. What next? A law demanding drivers must have a Master's Degree in Quantum Mechanics just to drive a new-fangled electric vehicle? One wonders how the future government of Britain is going to make that happen. Half the kids I witness in my area learn to read and write Grafftti rather than English. I speak with some experience on this. There's a bunch of young lads utterly and wrongly convinced I'm gay. That's bad enough, but they insist on letting me know they think so. Worse still, a hard core of them are hell bent on coercing me into admitting it. The other night, on my way home through a side street in the early hours of the morning, the driver of a car wound his window down and asked "Queer yet?". Well, these attempts at bullying have been going on for some time. A few have already fallen foul of anti-social legislation courtesy of the Police. One wonders what life is like at school these days. Bullying went on in my day, just like it always does, but this intense psychological intimidation is well beyond anything I experienced as a child and points clearly to a complete failure of modern education practice as much as what passes as parental upbringing these days. At the bus station, I waited for passengers to disembark as usual. A toddler, no more than four years old, came off the bus commenting on a small item with an habitual expletive which was shocking to hear from someone so young. I looked at his mother who gave a resigned expression. Well, there's a young man destined for a loud but undistinguished future. Rather like a bunch of lads believing their opinions matter. Will they ever learn? And Now For Something Completely Different There's been a change of strategy from these lads lately. Having failed to convert me to the condemning world of homosexuality, they now want to portray me as a shoplifter. They even claim they've seen me in the act. "You just wait" I hear. "You'll be sorry" from others. Well, I do have to point out that coercion, abuse, and false accusation could land you with a hefty punishment in court, and as far as I can see, all you're going to do is prove my innocence. Please carry on. Bird Of The Week Lately I've heard the sound of an owl from the countryside around my place of work as I leave at the end of a night shift. It's rare to hear one, never mind see one. But the other night I saw it, startled by the approach of a car and flying ahead of the equally startled driver. What a size! I didn't know owls got that big in Britain! Be afraid, mice. Be very afraid. Brexit Footnote October 31st has come and gone and still Parliament has obstructed the determined efforts of the government to realise the decision made in a referendum more than three years ago. I'm saddened that so many now blame our bus loving Prime Minister for failing to reach the conclusion, but isn't that a little dishonest? I mean, the reason he failed is parliamentary subterfuge. Politics some might call it, but I wonder how many people listening to accusations of our Prime Minister's supposed dishonesty are aware of how much dishonesty is being blatantly pushed in front of the public by his opposition leaders? Parliament claims to speak for democracy. No it doesn't. Parliament be damned.
  21. I doubt we can make Roman history the saviour of America. As much as the Founding Fathers used classical principles to create their new constitution, America is a different society in a different geo-political situation. I would agree there are useful lessons from history, but only in generic terms. After all - Didn't Rome fall by the wayside?
  22. caldrail

    When The Truth Doesn't Matter

    Johnson displays genuine passion but his bumbling style and continued reliance on 'get it done' isn't winning support amongst the population who want something more relevant to their daily lives. He is deliberately underplaying that report about the Russians. We've yet to find out why. the trouble right now is this ridiculous election campaign on all sides. it's like watching a high stakes poker game getting completely out of control. The messianic quality of the leading contenders is notable. We Brits aren't used to this sort of dogfight and whoever wins is going to leave a British population unsatisfied with the result years down the line because the players are piling on the chips to out-promise their opponents.
  23. My advice is to wary of those preaching organisation and modernesque paradigms. The Romans managed to supply their troops quite well, but note their are plenty of examples of where their organsiation failed. I'm thinking of Caesar in Africa. He had arranged for a re-supply by ship, but despite waiting at the destination for a while, the ships never came. He was forced to move on to allow his troops something to forage. The idea that Romans used supply lines in modern fashion is quite wrong. Nonetheless, the subject is fascinating.
  24. Prayer For The Dying from the 1990's Coverdale & Page album. It might be a hackneyed theme, but you can't argue with talent.
  25. Coins can lead to other discoveries. I'm told coins have been found showing Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf of MErcia together, suggesting an alliance long since forgotten (and Ceolwulf has received bad press from anglo-saxon writers too).