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caldrail

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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?
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Prayer For The Dying from the 1990's Coverdale & Page album. It might be a hackneyed theme, but you can't argue with talent.
  16. 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).
  17. What do we mean by brutality? At what point does the infliction of harm become gratuitous? Do we judge brutality by modern morality or the expectations of ancient Roman society? It's important to begin this short overview from a known perspective because our judgements on the conduct of Rome are not entirely objective. Rome is sometimes seen as the template for tyrannical imperialism. This is difficult to reconcile with the opinions and sentiments expressed by the Roman writers themselves, and indeed, seems to be based on little more than familiarity with the ideological tyrannies of more recent times. David Potter, author of Origins of Empire, describes Rome as "the most successful multi-ethnic, multi-cultural state in the history of Europe and the Mediterranean". Rome was a society that espoused moral values and austere lifestyles. A society that considered itself the epitome of civilisation. In much the same way we do today, as an expression of patriotic self-esteem. It was also an ambivalent society, for when wealth allowed, Romans enjoyed flouting their norms. Let's be quite clear about this - brutality is part of human behaviour, as undesirable as many of us would ordinarily see it as. Our modern societies try to protect citizens by legislation and law enforcement, but the infliction of arbitrary and excessive harm is nonetheless something that lurks among us. It lurked among the Romans too. Some might claim that it was much more overt than that, and to be fair, one would have to admit the extent of their brutality is notorious. I'm not going to dwell on the reports of individuals. As colourful and horrifying some of the antics that Roman caesars got up to might be, they represent a very tiny example of behaviour, one that distorts the overall picture. So therefore I put the Roman Empire on trial for brutality, judged by the common morality we share. The Roman Legions By far the biggest culprit were the common soldiers of Rome. In writings of the late republic and principate, one readily picks up the idea that Rome desired tough disciplined soldiers, able to follow orders without argument, able to withstand the rigours of campaigning, and to be frank - able to ram a sword into man, woman, or child without hesitation. It follows that a man prepared to be so violent isn't likely to be particularly well behaved. The Romans understood that. As it happens, Roman legions were often a disagreeable lot. They did argue with orders and were far closer to mutiny than modern armies would tolerate. Even the charismatic Julius Caesar had to ask his soldiers for consent to continue a war during the campaign against his rivals. At the death of Augustus, legions in Pannonia and Germania mutinied after being allowed time off to mourn or celebrate, seeking resolution of the harsh treatment and injustice they received daily. Heaven knows, lashes and wounds are always with us! So are hard winters and hard working summers, grim war, and unprofitable peace. Speech of Precennius - Annals (Tacitus) Nothing new there, Tacitus tells us. Harsh lives make harsh men. Roman legionaries would expect booty to reward their efforts at war, and their commanders were only too willing to please them by providing such opportunities. If there is a requisition and a soldier siezes your donkey, let it go. Don't resist and don't grumble. If you do, you will be beaten and you will still lose your donkey. Letters collected by Arrian (Epictetus) By tradition, a Roman soldier swore an oath not to steal from his comrades on campaign. Oaths may have been a serious business but they didn't always deter. Frontinus records in Stratagems that one commander, either especially stern or exasperated, ordered that any soldier caught stealing would have his right hand cut off. By tradition, a dishonoured legion undergoes a decimation - one man in ten is randomly selected and beaten to death by his colleagues. Brutality serves as a deterrent. Tough On The Streets Where human beings congregate in large urban enviroments, the levels of violence begin to rise. Rome was no exception. A certain level of thuggery was accepted, as young men of good families would roam the streets at night looking for people to beat up. But this sort of behaviour would be more or less restricted to the virile and testosterone driven male gangs. It seems unlikely that all young men behaved in this way. Your drunken bully who has by chance not slain his man passes a night of torture like that of Achilles when he bemoaned his friend, lying now upon his face, and now upon his back; he will get no rest in any other way, since some men can only sleep after a brawl. Yet however reckless the fellow may be, however hot with wine and young blood, he gives a wide berth to one whose scarlet cloak and long-retinue of attendants, with torches and brass lamps in their hands, bid him keep his distance. But to me, who am wont to be escorted home by the moon, or by the scant light of a candle whose wick I husband with due care, he pays no respect. Whether you venture to say anything, or make off silently, it's all one: he will thrash you just the same, and then, in a rage, take bail from you. Such is the liberty of the poor man: having been pounded and cuffed into a jelly, he begs and. prays to be allowed to return home with a few teeth in his head! Nor are these your only terrors. When your house is shut, when bar and chain have made fast your shop, and all is silent, you will be robbed by a burglar; or perhaps a cut-throat will do for you quickly with cold steel. Satires (Juvenal) But despite this potentially violent enviroment, there was also a curiosity among bystanders. Plutarch records how people rushed to the senate house to see the fallen body of Julius Caesar (and rushed away equally quickly just in case). There were of course occaisions when strong feelings arouse the citizens to anger. Riots were always a threat to the powerful in Rome because those caught by them might well be beaten to death, such as the fate of Cleander in the reign of Commodus. Little wonder then that the rulers of Rome were keen to divert the Roman mob with public entertainment. Sports And Games Without a doubt a major unifying element of the Roman Empire was the spread of games. Swordfights were performed for public entertainment with a very real risk of death or injury. Although fights to the death existed, the professional bout consisted of two men fighting with referees and rest periods until one or the other could not continue, his fate a decision of the games editor based more often than not on the mood of the crowd. In the morning men are thrown to the lions and the bears; but it is the spectators they are thrown to in the lunch hour. Letters (Seneca) It does the people good to see that even slaves can fight bravely. If a mere slave can show such courage, what then can a Roman do? Besides, the games harden a warrior people to sights of carnage and prepares them for battle. Letters (Cicero) The traditional swordfight with an honourable decision over the fate of those who could not continue was one thing; by the late empire, this had transmuted to displays of fighting designed to wound as a means of heightening drama. Little wonder that some experts feel that the gladiatorial games had lost their purpose in Roman society, or that Augustine records the addiction of a newbie spectator to watching violence . The Romans enjoyed other sports that carried a brutal edge. Boxing, where the bandages that protected the hand evolved into metal gloves designed to punish the opponent. The Pankration, or Greek wrestling, where there are only two rules to obey - no biting and no gouging of eyes - which got ignored in the heat of combat. Animals were slaughtered by the wagonload to thrill the public for as long as the supply of animals was practicable and affordable. At first for novelty, later for spectacle, and finally to demonstrate the power of Rome over nature. The extraordinary numbers of animals slaughtered in the arena is mind numbing, driving some species to regional extinction - something the Romans themselves were well aware. Slavery Another evil of human behaviour is the ownership of others. The problem has never entirely gone away despite the various moral advances in history. In ancient times, it was simply how life was. The Romans had mixed feelings about their possessions which were legally en par with animals. Some saw them as merely 'talking tools', others more willing to permit something approaching humane treatment. It was true that wealthy owners liked to free as many slaves as they could, in order to show how generous and humane they were, but one suspects a more expedient attitude was the motive. On the one hand, rural and industrial slaves might expect a short hard life, pushed to physical extremes and exposed to unhealthy enviroments. Others might be valued companions, loyal employees, teachers for their children, or entertainers to please the family and guests. The slaves engaged in the operation of the mines secure for their masters profit in amounts which are almost beyond belief. They themselves are however physically destroyed, their bodies worn down by working in the mine shafts both day and night. many die because of the excessive maltreatment they suffer. they are given no rest or break from their toil, but rather are forced by the whiplashes of the overseers to endure the most dreadful of hardships; thus do they wear out their lives in misery. The History of the World (Diodorus Siculus) Poor Psecas, whose own hair has been torn out by her mistress, and whose clothes has been ripped from her shoulders and breasts by her mistress, combs and styles her mistress' hair. "Why is this curl so high?" the mistress screams, and at once a whipping punishes Psecas for this crime of the curling iron and sin of a hairstyle. Satires (Juvenal) In one case, a slave had killed his master. Law demanded that all the household slaves should be executed as well. However, a crowd of protestors , trying to protect so many innocent lives, gathered and began to riot. They besieged the senate house. Within the senate house, some senators were anxious to eliminate excessive cruelty, but the majority were of the opinion that nothing should be changed. Annals (Tacitus) Sadly the outburst of popular support for the plight of the slaves achieved nothing - Nero enforced the rules. Conclusion We have to accept that brutality exists in human societies. In any such society, there is a general level of behaviour that is either tolerated or unsuppressed. Clearly this operates in both ancient and modern eras. Roman law was a reactive process, because free men had the right to free will and self determination. If you chose to exceed acceptable behaviour, then you were liable for punishment, if you were caught or brought to justice. However this means that men in authority were able to exercise whatever brutality they believed they could get away with. No doubt most maintained some semblance of moral behaviour, others were willing to test the boundaries, especially if far from close inspection. Yet much of this impression is based on reports of individuals such as badly behaved patricians and emperors. The Roman writers use the stories of brutality to describe the vices of an individual, to show what a villain he was, and one suspects that a great deal of this is exaggerated for dramatic effect. Seneca records his dismay at arena violence. Cicero records that a man was better off doing something useful than sat idly watching fights. And as much as we abhor the idea of gladiators fighting to potential death or injury for public entertainment, it was also recorded that these men were only too keen to please their masters, illustrating that violence is a part of the human psyche and sometimes socially acceptable. So - was Rome a brutal society? By design the Roman Empire was a benign state that allowed its diverse population to prosper in a spirit of competition and opportunity, a society with avenues for social advancement in spite of strict class divisions, a society that respected local customs as equally valid as Roman law, but it also had a greater capacity for greed and cruelty than we would allow. Brutality served a purpose in the Roman world, a tool that the ruthless found expedient. In other words.... What do you think I mean? I mean that I come home more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous, and even more cruel and inhuman - because I have been among humans. Letters (Seneca)
  18. Whilst I was on holiday I saw a television broadcast of a dramatised documentary about Boudicca's rebellion against Rome in AD60. Entertaining stuff, however biased toward the Roman account, which is admittedly our only source and written back in the day to conform to their readers expectations of an interesting and dramatic anecdote. But as I watched, I realised the presenter was making fundamental errors about Rome's provincial policies. In short, I hereby examine three statements made during the program. 1 - That Rome ruled by violence and oppression 2 - That Rome relied on the invincibility of her army 3 - That the rebellion illustrates the truth of what life was like under Roman rule. 1 - Rome ruled by violence and oppression This is a common conception. Rome is seen as a monolithic nation state that assimilates populations to produce indentikit citizens with a generation or two. This was simply not so. Rome was at heart a city state with influence over a network of territories of varying status and native populations owing them loyalty and taxes. it is true that many regions were brought into the empire via conquest of one sort or another, but let's not forget that the realm of Iceni was a client state that Rome expected to inherit. Tacitus tells us that... The imperial agent Caisu Decianus, horrified by the catastrophe and his unpopularity, withdrew to Gaul. It was his rapacity which had driven the province to war Annals (Tacitus) Imperial agent? So Decianus was there at the orders of Nero to make sure the man the Senate had sent to make sure the province was doing fine, was doing fine. Whilst the habit of being rapacious, greedy, clumsy, and brutal was an unfortunate tendency of senior Romans in Provincial assignment, clearly not all of them were. Therefore violence and oppression was a policy pursued by individual Romans at their discretion rather than any tyrannical regime the Romans had foisted upon the unfortunate Britons. But then, the Romans didn't like tyrants all that much, never mind the Britons. 2 - Rome relied on the invincibility of her army Rome's legions were not invincible and they knew it. The sources contain many references to utter defeats and indeed, some describe one legion or another as barely resembling a military unit at all. But let's read what Tacitus says about a military mission to relieve the sack of Camulodunum. The Ninth Roman legion, commanded by Quintus Perilius Cerialus Caesius Rufus, attempted to relieve the town, but was stopped by the victorious Britons and routed. its entire infantry force were massacred, while the commander escaped to his camp with his cavalry and sheltered behind its defenses. Annals (Tacitus) Oh dear. The commander ran away with his horsemen, perhaps two or three percent of a full strength legion. How invincible was that? 3 - That the rebellion illustrates the truth of what life was like under Roman rule. The 'savage' Britons ran riot, attacking Londinium, Veralumium, and eventually meeting another legionary force under the senatorial governor Suetonius, at the Battle of Watling Street. Tacitus kindly gives us the speech made by Boudicca - which is clearly invented since no-one would have recorded it for the benefit of a Roman historian. The Britons lose, and Boudicca is said to have poisoned herself - a standard Roman style fate. Nero sends replacements for the casualties suffered by the Ninth Legion. And hot off the boat is Decianus' replacement. Still the savage British tribesmen were disinclined for peace, especially as the newly arrived Imperial Agent Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus, successor to Caius Decianus, was on bad terms with Suetonius, and allowed his personal animosities to damage the national interests. Annals (Tacitus) Should have all been sorted. Calmly, confidently, and decisively. But as happens in these anecdotes of Roman disorder, personality is the flaw rather than politics. Nero senses things aren't working out, and sends his freedman Polyclitus to investigate, who travelled with a seriously large entourage that stretched the patience of Italy and Gaul. it even intimidated the Roman legions. The Britons were, by all accounts, quite amused. But all this was toned down in Polyclitus' reports to the emperor. Retained as governor, Suetonius lost a few ships and their crews on the shore, and was then superseded for not terminating the war. His successor, the recent consul Publius Petronius Turpilianus, neither provoking the enemy nor provoked, called this ignoble inactivity peace with honour. Annals (Tacitus) One imperial agent ran away, his replacement pursued intrigue rather than the rebels.. The senatorial governor got the sack, his replacement did nothing until the leaderless rebels gave up. Conclusion The television presenter stopped at the defeat of Boudicca, describing Rome as a tyranny that trampled rebellions with violence and oppression. What Tacitus describes is a catalogue of folly. Greed, cowardice, intrigue, indecisiveness, and clumsiness. The war is not won, merely left to fizzle out. Violence and oppression? Truth was the Romans were too busy making mistakes.
  19. caldrail

    Living With Audiences

    Fame! I'm gonna live forever I'm gonna learn how to fly Those of us scarred and traumatised by the 1980's will no doubt recognise lyrics from that song belonging to a television series which I'm pleased to say I managed to avoid entirely. But what is fame? A reputation? A state of being? A mysterious blessing from fate? Curiously enough, people generally either see it with some degree of religious awe or an excuse for utter contempt. I made the mistake once of describing myself on my CV as 'known worldwide' for one thing or another. At the time I considered that appropriate given the attention I was getting on the internet, though to be truthful I never counted thousands of followers on social websites. I naively thought it would add some colour to my dreary collection of dead end jobs and idle interludes. To my suprise the manager of a certain catering company, interviewing me for some worthless office job, asked "So you think you're famous?" Erm... What? No, I don't think I'm famous. "It says here," He said, looking at my CV before him, "that you're known around the world.". Oh good grief. Well I explained that fame was a measure of attention people paid to you, that it was not an on/off switch, more like shades of grey. I did not use the word 'famous'. If I thought I was, I would've described myself as such. "To me this says you're famous" He snarled, holding up his copy of my CV and pointing at it like it was evidence of criminal behaviour. No point being reasonable with this sort of attitude, so I quite correctly told him my name was mentioned in print and that was good enough for me. I didn't get the job. I did learn to fly eventually. Still working on living forever though experience suggests I might struggle with that one. Audience With King George I seem to be getting into the habit of an annual visit to STEAM, Swindon's modest railway museum. It's not a bad experience, and the dummies in period costume are disturbingly real at first glance. A young mother just ahead of me was fooled, she suddenly realised that the old lady sat at a typewriter behind a desk wasn't quite as alive as she thought. I always enjoy that open door to a small office where the manager is telling his employee that if he's late for work once more there'll be a parting of the ways. I like the way the museum starts with this administration background, moves on to stores, then trades, then a diorama of wartime steam engine manufacture with two female mechanics chatting, until finally you wander into a large space with just Caerphilly Castle on her own, a full on express steam locomotive from those glorious days of God's Wonderful Railway. Looking a little shabby these days, but still a powerful exhibit. Secretly though I have another engine to visit. The first GWR King class, No.6000 George V. Not because I especially like that class of engine, or I admire the technical excellence, or respect the history of that particular locomotive, but because as a little boy I briefly stood on the footplate when it had stopped at Swindon station. George had been retired from mainline service long before. On one particular day though, a special train was due to pull into town and my mother took me and a friend along to see it. By sheer chance, I happened to be standing by the cab when a kindly engine driver kidnapped me to experience that forbidden metal cavern where the crew drove this engine for real. I remember the darkness with the firebox closed, the patina of grime, and a few burnished copper pipes. Truth was, I felt a little intimidated, and didn't have the questions the proud crew were hoping to answer. So they kindly returned me to freedom. Of course George is now somewhat cleaner in the cab, bereft of any coal or water in her tender, her firebox cold and empty. Machines are always female, whatever the name. It's hard to describe how I feel when I pause at the top of the steps to look around the empty cab. Part of me is pleased to be there. Nostalgia for that brief insight into a lost era, sensing that attachment to a piece of history, a complex and powerful machine, built by craftsmen in days gone by. All the same I cannot help feel sad the engine no longer steams, no longer moves. All that noise and motion of George in her heyday gone, possibly forever. Like visiting a disabled relative stifled by the regime of an old people's home, it's time to move on, so I pat the side of the cab wall. Great to see you again George. Audience Waiting Back in those heady days of the eighties, my main concern was striving for fame, to live forever, to learn how to... Well, you know the score. It was a time when music stores were commonplace, where you purchase all manner of instruments, gizmos, and accessories to help you on your way to rock stardom. When did I last play a drumkit in public? Must be more than twenty years now. You would think it would be all forgotten, but a reputation is a hard thing to suppress, whether justified or not, and let's be honest, I've never shied away from reminding peple that I used to be a working musician. I passed a bunch of lads lurking in an alleyway between shops on the high street. I heard them point me out, debate the merits of asking me to fill the vacant spot in their band, until one bright spark observed that I was almost old enough for a bus pass, that irrevocable indicator of old age and disqualilication for entry into rock stardom. My music career died long ago, but it seems fate just won't let me me forget it. Audience of the Week The pubs have closed for the night. So gangs of revellers tramp up and down the road outside on their way to a nightclub or maybe just struggling to get home without falling over. Most laugh, shout, or throw punches at each other. Some however continue to make appraisals of me as they pass. Scorn, anger, and amusement. So it seems everyone has an opinion about me, good or bad. Just the price of fame I guess.
  20. Welcome back to the fold Neil.
  21. caldrail

    Just thought I'd drop in with this

    I suppose a lot would depend on how the stunt was being presented. Is it a prisoner sent to his doom? Or a genuine stunt to thrill and wow the crowd by a daring athlete? The former requires failure in the most horrible terms possible, the latter requires absolute success. Either would please the crowd in context. And just to add spice, some hungry wolves or big cats roaming below (a venator could polish them off in the following event). But it strikes me that horses are being risked here. Expensive and valuable animals. Also the charioteer is riding a ceremonial chariot which is too heavy for the stunt (actually, a racing chariot, despite being light enough, would not be strong enough). I wonder if the horse would refuse the jump? Of course, it could be morning entertainment and therefore a comedy item :D
  22. caldrail

    Friendly physical contact among Romans

    I am reminded of Ovid, the poet who wrote some stuff about how to get a girl, and banished by Augustus for his trouble. He says that a man should lightly brush the breast of the lady he fancies, pretending to wipe away dirt. Well. That will get her attention.
  23. caldrail

    Walking On A Wilder Side

    The weather forecast had already warned us of storms crossing Britain late into the night. As luck would have it, I was on a late shift, and that meant walking home during the period when I was most likely to be drenched in minutes or used by nature to light the vicinity when hit by lightning. There was every risk of both, and to be honest, I’ve always had a policy of avoiding such weather conditions by the clever use of indoors. Not last night then. One colleague at work told me that storms were already crossing France and would be here in two hours. Really? That would require winds in excess of gale force. There was barely a breeze and whilst thirty odd degrees centigrade isn’t hot by some standards around the globe, for Britain it was sweltering. In any case the winds weren’t from France, but the Atlantic southwest, as usual. Damp air then. Perfect for the odd electrical storm. I have to say working to very high targets in that sort of humid temperature was not for the faint hearted. By the close of shift, I was, as they say, ker-nackered. So. Time to go home. Almost as soon as I left the premises the display started. Around the sky flickers of light went off almost continuously, an extraordinary sight and one I found quite weird given not a rumble of thunder could be heard. I could see the mass of storm cells encroaching on Swindon. Sooner or later the rain would start. I wonder? Could I make it to the McDonalds outlet about halfway home without incurring a sudden outbreak of dampness? It worked. I made it to the rest stop barely seconds before the first cloudburst opened up. Perfect. Fast food, dry shelter, and bewildered staff to impress with my knowledge of storms. “Ahh” Said one McDonald droid, “it’s stopped. I can go home now.” You think? I’m staying here for another hour yet. He chuckled and headed for the door only to be greeted with a huge fork of lightning over the area. Your move mate. Cunning Move Whilst I was walking to McDonalds I spotted a fox on the other side of the road. Normally at that distance they either don’t care, or find a more discreet place to be. This one simply hunkered down. I know mate, it is warm isn’t it? Howls Of Badgers Badgers are the quietest of animals. They snuffle around, usually looking happy as Larry, but a week or two ago I encountered one on a footpath going home. Badgers aren’t the most alert of creatures. I’ve often walked very close to them before they realised I was there, but always they scarper, and scarper quickly they can. This one saw me coming and hooted very loudly. Wow. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard a badger. A born sergeant major that one. Big Beetles On the outskirts of an industrial estate I saw movement on the road, again lat at night. This was a black beetle, alarmingly huge. Two or three inches long, much larger than anything I’ve seen plodding around British countryside. This one was not only large, but fast too, scurrying around like demon possessed. A foreign import off a lorry? We don’t usually get beetles like that outside of zoos. Boris Of The Week This week’s star prize goes to our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who takes over from Theresa May today. There’s a sort of inevitable aspect to his new found glory. Can he sort out the mess and get a deal on Brexit past the hordes of British MP’s determined to frustrate the British public’s decision to leave Europe? The battlefield is the same as it’s been for three years and cost May her job. Who knows, perhaps the outsize beetle was an omen. Perhaps the gods welcomed Boris with a spectacular lightning display. Somehow I doubt he got rained on last night.
  24. The Romans were very concious of social status, far more than we are today, and this permeated their military system too, so your idea of grading authority into categories does indeed equate to their system. The only caveat is that you observe the anomalies, such as Optio. It means "Chosen Man", and for a reason. Romans were usually literal about titles. Originally a centurion could choose his right hand man. Not an ordinary promotion, as technically any soldier deemed suitable was eligible. Later the post-Augustan tribunes chose men and foisted them on centurions. Note however the style of command. The centurion is boss, top dog, and runs his command as his. The Optio is there to back him up and watch his back as well. It's very direct, a hangover of the distant past where Praetores "Leaders" led gangs of men on raids and ambuscades. There's little breakdown of command at all and indeed, small unit tactics are a modern thing and certainly something Roman soldiers would be shy of - safety in numbers. Some responsibilities however could be placed on others, so we have for instance one title Tesserarius which has a limited authority. One might well see this policy as common sense, because whilst the Romans preferred to keep command as simple as possible, a centurion could not be everywhere at once, yet at the same time giving power to lower orders was for them inherently dangerous - note the propensity for rebellion and mutiny that bribes, leave, and stern discipline held off.
  25. caldrail

    A city's Pomerium

    A settlement that reached a certain status (I'm not sure which, but I'm assuming it was civitas) was allowed a local senate to conduct admin/government - remember that the empire was not centrally governed nor was it territorial in nature, but focused on settlements.. Although Rome had the final word as it were, provinces were governed internally on local/regional matters. Governors were not ruling the province per se, but represented the final word in both Roman and native law, and generally did little governing other than to exploit the region for personal profit - note the Roman policy of assimilating local rulers to plug into the Roman network to exploit the existing chains of loyalty.
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