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Posts posted by caldrail

  1. Arguably. However, Romulus Augustulus was not the power in Ravenna despite his position - that was why Odoacer ousted him and asked the Pope to become King. Roman power did not suddenly end in the west, it declined and was taken over and revived (to a degree) by the Gothic Kingdom. However, that did not make it an entirely new state. The inhabitants still considered themselves Romans, and true Romans at that, not like those Greek people in Constantinople. The Senate continued to meet for at least a century after Odoacer took charge. It was, if you like, only the replacement of Dominus by King, and that point tends to get forgotten. After all, calling it the 'Fall of Rome' is far more dramatic and interesting.

    As for Constantinople in 1453, it represents the end of contiguous Roman rule however Greek it may have been, with the Ottoman Turks installing a new regime. But even then, there were parts of the former empire that did not die off. I understand there's a small corner of modern Greece that is still legally answerable to the Roman Empire. And as for the Catholic Church, that has always represented Roman power right up to today.

  2. The use of dolls seems quite natural to human beings. I'm not so sure that society teaches its youngsters via such media, at least not conciously, but children naturally learn by acting out adult roles to a degree. Watch any gregarious mammal species - the male young always play fight.

    I remember many years ago walking along an old railway embankment and spotting movement on the south side slope. It was a bunch of fox cubs, playing in the sun outside the set, probably their first adventures outside. They saw me and stopped, curious, not sure of what to do. Eventually instinct got the better of them and they went underground. The second time I saw them they scarpered immediately. The third time, and the last, was following mother on a hunting trip to the nearby farm.

  3. China made a few instances of contact, but only on the eastern fringes. Rome is supposed to have made one diplomatic visit to China and a Roman ship is known to have reached their shores. One chinese gentleman was ordered to contact Rome and ask for military assistance against barbarian raiders. He reached the Persian Gulf and asked if he could reach Rome by sea. Yes, he was told, but you have to sail around Africa. The sailors gave him detailed advice on how to prepare for such a voyage. Makes you wonder how they knew.

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  4. One can only imagine why this sub-Saharan woman lived in Roman Britain.

    You seem to think that racial diversity is a modern phenomenon? Britain has a very long history of immigration and inclusion that isn't well covered in histories. The Roman occupation was a period when such things were even more prevalent. Slavery no doubt had a large part to play in that, but so did opportunity or military service.

  5. Sometimes that's true, but ancient to Iron Age civilisations had a habit of making offerings. In Britain, it was common to submerge weapons in water, a deeply symbolic act (and possibly the origin of the Arthurian 'Lady of the Lake' myth.

    Mind you, the Iron Age in western Europe was notable for human sacrifice. Although the Druids are popularly blamed (and the Romans didn't much care for their participation), the practice was from common agreement with oversight and interpretation by the Druids who no doubt twisted things to suit their needs in controlling tribal politics. The number three is a common psychological symptom, in this case the the three sacrificial actions - first to stun the victim with a heavy blow to the head, second to strangle the victim, and third to cut the throat. The unpopular or unlucky members of society might well have been chosen for this treatment to appease the Gods when things go badly or malicious accusations are made.

    On a more mundane note, the Romans commonly made offerings (and indeed, a temple of any size might have market stalls next door to sell the sacrificial items). Possibly some of the deposited coin hoards, the smaller ones, might actually be such offerings as opposed to simple buried treasure.

    I also note the astonishing variety of goods found discarded, sometimes in good condition.

  6. It's known there was a number of pyroclastic flows which were halted by the town's walls. Eventually a flow overcame the obstacle. Asphyxiated? Archeological forensics demonstrates that the sudden heat of the flow was enough to boil a brain and cause it to erupt (evidence from the cellars at Baiae). In one town (Herculaneum?), a woman was caught by the flow in the middle of the street and torn limb from limb by the turbulence. 

  7. There's been a lot of 'Climate change caused the fall of..." proclamations recently, some a little outlandish, such as one claiming that the 'Fall of the Republic' was due to volcanic eruptions (The republic did not 'fall', it merely changed form - that's why we discuss the Roman Imperial era). There was a geologist on television some years back who claimed that silted up harbours caused these 'falls'. Never mind that the industrious Romans were capable of finding anchorages for themselves, or as in the case of Ostia, building entire ports to order.

    The thing is, people are attracted to the idea of dramatic collapses even if they didn't actually happen, and seek their favourite single cause. It's the sort of myth making that has people searching for a genuine 'Holy Grail' when the original was a fictional prop in a medieval romance that wasn't even holy to begin with. I don't doubt climate change has had far reaching effects in Roman history but let's keep it in perspective. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79ad did not cause anything except the loss of the local area and those near to the site.

  8. Roman attitudes to sex were different than today. It wasn't that Caesar had an affair - it was the accusation that he was the passive partner (suspicion of which revolves around the expectation that the King, being senior, was the active partner). Passive sex between men was acting out the role of a woman, something the Roman saw as effeminate and unmanly. The active partner, even with another man, was simply doing what nature designed him to do, thus it wasn't thought of as wrong in any way.

    There was an interesting case regarding a legionary called Trebonius, who was subject to attempted seduction by an officer related to Gaius Marius. The officer tried all sorts of inducements for the soldier to become his passive partner but Trebonius always refused. Then, finally, Trebonius was summoned to the officers quarters and an attempted rape took place resulting in the officers death. Trebonius was already isolated because other legionaries thought he was the officer's pet, but now he was under threat of punishment for murder. Marius returned to camp to find his relative dead. Trebonius was arrested and put on military trial. He answered the charges as best he could, but in the end, Marius decided to let him off because he had acted honourably.


  9. Their rise was due to military exploits: Caesar's conquest of Gaul ...

    I can well understand why you think so. But that view isn't entirely true. Caesar was deliberately contentious from the start with every intention of rising to the fore. Indeed, Suetonius underlines that by alluding to omens of his later greatness. His rise to prominence was fuelled by some very heavy financial loans as much as political or military action, and the major motive for his conquest of Gaul was to exploit the tribal conflicts and gain enough booty to pay off his debts. He visits to Britain were done for three reasons - to gain kudos for being the first there, to quell any support for rebellious Gallic tribes, and most importantly, to find the silver he'd heard about. Cicero tells us in his letters that Caesar didn't find any.

  10. His reputation has, a success for his self-promotion. His popularity with the Roman masses may well have less to do with the persistence of this reputation than the fact he bonked Cleopatra and got assassinated later. An early dramatic death often seals the deal with history.

    By the way, Caesar was given divine honours while he was still alive, including a statue which bore the title 'Demigod'. Caesar ordered the offending title removed. Nonetheless the common people were convinced that Caesar was a god, essentially the origin of the Imperial Cult. 

  11. You might like to know that the public wanted Augustus to become Dictator like Julius Caesar. He refused. He was accused by some senators of being a Dictator anyway and why doesn't he just admit it? He refused. Technically the post of Dictator had been abolished by Marc Antony after Caesar's death (in republican politics it was an emergency post giving someone powers to command for six months or until the emergency was over. Caesar was unique in becoming Dictator Perpetuo). A control freak, but not really a tyrant.

  12. I will contest a few points.

    His political heirs would establish the Principate but republican government in Rome was already beginning to totter during his lifetime.

    Totter? Oh, another 'Fall of the Republic' thing. I think you're wrong about that. The Republic didn't go anywhere. Augustus propped it up, albeit with him as its guiding light. It would migrate toward monarchy over the next two hundred years.

    Augustus, the true founder of the Roman Empire, realized that the political chaos following the murder of Caesar could not continue, he sensed citizens were wearied with the unending turmoil and factions.  As long as the facade of a republic continued they were, over time, became content with a benevolent dictator.

    Roman politics always had some chaos involved. In fact, despite his control and reforms, it remained chaotic. For seven years he had to veto the Senate to stop them attacking each other in quarrels over votes and so forth. He relented shortly before he died. As for the plebs, they loved factions. The winning chariot team was headline news each and every time for hundreds of years.

    Now, this 'facade' thing?  That only works if you try to depict Augustus as a dictator/tyrant (which I see you have). Dio thought similarly, and probably unfairly. But remember that Augustus did not invent anything new in politics - he said as much. Further, he claimed, with some justification, that he had no more power than anyone else, just more authority. What Augustus was trying to do was restore the Republic to some semblance of peaceful engagement (he would urge senators to get involved in decision making - no passengers at the helm) but with leadership that had been sadly lacking during the late republican era.

    In other words, the Republic did not end, but changed the manner of its government. After all, the Roman state was called SPQR to the very end. Senate and People of Rome? An odd name for an autocratic empire don't you think? If there was any facade, it was later in the Principate, when monarchial leanings were becoming the norm.

    People like Caligula were a little different. They did not relate well to the idea of civic duty, so important in republican politics, and were more concerned with their personal power. In fact, Caligula is recorded as having to ask the Senate for permission to stage games. That from a guy who wanted to set up a throne in Alexandria where the Senate could not legally go.

  13. "...when such posts gave ready access to political careers."
    Think about that.

    To what end? Roman politics was always an activity that required qualification via previous achievement of some sort. But military experience far outweighed the relevance of education. Indeed, in the republican era, it wasn't unusual for speakers to pull open their togas and point out war wounds to demonstrate their commitment to Rome. Political speaking was quite theatrical by the way. Slapping thighs, demonstrative gestures, they put on quite a performance of ham acting in order to liven their speeches. There was your education. 

  14. Medieval warfare was not primitive. Unsubtle maybe, but it did usher in the era of firearms. As to your speculations, it's impossible to say, although the Teutonic Knights did not find the Lithuanian tribes an easy opponent.

  15. Putnam can say what he likes. I work for a company that literally has employees from around the world. Our union is in consultation with management right now over benefits for the workforce and the company is actually keen to maintain this dialogue because they are able to sense the grass roots opinion more comprehensively. It also represents respect for the workforce. I've had senior managers ask me questions on certain issues before now. So Putnam would appear to be making generic comments that aren't necessarily de rigeur.

    The Roman world established a paternal structure for its empire. It was not, as many see it, a wholly uniform tyranny in the manner of more recent european empires. The provinces had local government supported by Roman governors, created out of native tribal links in order to solidify loyalty and cooperation. In fact the Romans were proud of their diversity despite their love of exporting latin culture. They praised the city of Palmyra for its cosmopolitan mix of peoples and architecture. Conformity was never demanded. Self determination and free will were what made human beings. Anything else was an animal or a slave. So if a subject of the empire, citizen or not, chose to wear furry swimming trunks and live as his ancestors did, that was fine by the Romans. All they wanted was tribute, loyalty, and lawfulness.

    The voting assemblies were more persistent than you describe. Remember that ordinary Romans were quick to voice opinions and not shy of lambasting or even assaulting their betters. Also, despite a lot of what you read, Augustus did not overturn the Republic - he gave it what he considered a better governmental system, by using republican forms (He said he did not invent anything new in his Res Gestae). Tiberius was the first to limit the assemblies by handing some of their rights to the Senate (since he relied on them to rule in his absence at Capri - notice how the Senate is still given a central governing role). Caligula didn't think much of the Senate, seeing them as an obstruction to his power, and reversed the decision, but it was more or less slowly downhill for the assemblies after that. You might claim, with some justification, that the ruling Princeps need not be too concerned of an adverse vote because he could in theory overrule it. But whilst the Princeps might wish to control what they voted for, would he really want to frustrate his public? Support is essential. Without it, he's in serious danger.

    The Roman public had been ready for a charismatic leader for quite some time. Julius Caesar made good on that sentiment. It was easier for them to relate to than a crowd of anonymous important people doing business behind closed doors. But this pretence thing? I see this quite a lot. Many academics repeat it. But like David Braund I don't see any ruse or trick. Augustus was more up front than that. As Suetonius says, he was twice ready to give his position up, and Marcus Agrippa was given enough power (possibly equal) to rule in his place whilst Augustus travelled for a total of nine years. That's a little odd for despot, don't you think?

  16. Rome wasn't about race, it was about culture. If you notice, the Romans were always inclusive. It didn't matter where you came from. What did matter was how you conformed to their cultural ideals, and the elite Romans were very quick to grade you according to your ability to 'speak pwoper', adopt the right clothes, hair, manners, etc. The future emperor Trajan was laughed at by the Senate when he made his first speech as a youngster simply because he had a regional accent. Tacitus mocks the Britons for aping their betters (and compliments the Gauls for being the closest to emulate them).

    Fall of the Roman Empire? Why do people say that? It's a romantic fallacy. Even after Odoacer successfully appealed to the Pope for permission to be crowned King of Italy the inhabitants of the Gothic Kingdom considered themselves as Romans, and better Romans than the greek-esque Eastern Empire that we now call the Byzantines. Brittania threw the Roman administration out after the empire failed to protect them from Saxon piracy and banditry. An ancient Brexit you could call it. They regretted it of course and later appealed to the Romans for assistance (Groans of the Britons) which was not forthcoming.

    The thing is, to say 'Fall of the...' sounds more dramatic and satisfying, an element of our christianised western culture that sees a corrupt and decadent empire collapse as a sort of justice of everything moral. The statement has recently been expanded into the end of the Republican era. I now see 'Fall of the Republic' becoming a standard phrase, which isn't true either. The Principate was an evolution of Republican Rome with single person rule becoming acceptable as a Senate sponsored top level magistrate that we like to call 'Emperor', however false that nomination might be. Only when we reach the reign of Diocletian do we see single person rule established openly as master of the empire.

    Now, your comments about diversity. Since when did diversity become submissive? Britain and America are diverse societies, the latter based on immigration particularly, and neither are submissive states. As a diverse entity, if Rome was submissive, I hardly think it would have dominated the Mediterranean region the way it did.

  17. Meekness? That's a rather idealistic version of Christianity, which as a religion has demonstrated a very high capacity for changing its motives to suit those in power. Romans were Romans, regardless of religion, although I will concede that the prohibition on shedding blood had some effect on such things as blood sports - but bear in mind that such things had religious connotations to the Roman world and therefore a change from individualistic pagan worship to communal christian sects rather diluted the point of such events - the chariot races would be far more popular than the arena anyway. But also it has to be remembered that the development of monarchy in the empire made certain aspects of Roman culture redundant too. Why would an emperor need to seek the opinion and approval of the crowd at the games when he had become the Dominus in fact as well as name?

    The bureaucratisation of the empire might well be a factor, but Gibbon was describing the situation as he saw it in his own day when such structures were less obvious in society. Our own modern standards encompass a great deal of significance to bureaucratic institutions in government thus when Gibbon mentions it, we inflate the effect according to our own expectation.

    Therefore one can easily see that the redundancy of many formerly important societal aspects probably had a more withering effect than anything specific like bureaucracies or religion. Philip Parker wrote in The Empire Stops Here how an analogy with human life can be seen in an empire that basically had grown old, losing its former dynamism and ability to defend itself, dying a quite natural death. I do agree with this sort of analogy - the human society is a composite of living humans in the same way that we are an assemblage of single cells - it would likely share the same parameters.

    Now, to understate this idea, please realise that the Roman Empire was a victim of its own success. Having become the surviving superpower of the region, the lack of major rivalry (bearing in mind that the Parthians/Persians, Rome's persistent enemy, was fighting across an arid no man's land), meant that their society was becoming stale, static, , and as other cultures have demonstrated, this leads toward a decline in the ability of that culture to survive crises.as their society tends toward formality and ritual. Another aspect of this can be seen in Tacitus, where he sometimes gloats over the weakening effects of Roman luxuries exported to societies not used to them. But he fails to realise that Rome's prosperity would lead to indulgence in the very same way. Rome grew weak because it no longer had to struggle. The earlier austerity had long since gone, along with the hardened attitudes it engendered. People paid lip service to Rome's love affair with martial values. Once this had been a driving force in politics and diplomacy. By the later empire, it was becoming a idea that was beloved in theory, but quietly avoided at all costs in favour of a comfortable life.