Every now and again the local civic society in my town raises funds by holding a second hand book sale in the town hall. It is a gruesome affair, where the thin veneer of civilisation is ripped off and men and women revert to the brutish state of nature. The doors open at 10.00am, by which time the predators have already gathered. Darwinian selection ensures that only the fittest and the most aggressive specimens get through the door first. Continue reading
It is good to be clear about how the world really is, rather than how we would like it to be. One easy mistake to make is to conflate radical Islam with Islam. Islam does not have a moderate form and an extreme form. Indeed, neither do Christianity or Judaism. All three religions are large social structures with deep roots in history and with a large wealth of inherited experience and tradition. They are big projects which have evolved to meet the needs of their adherents, and like all human creations they have high points and low points, triumphs and tragedies, heroes and villains. As a secular atheist I am inclined to be skeptical of the claims of organised religion, but it is what it is and it isn’t entirely bad. It offers many people a community to belong to, and that is no small thing and not something I would deprive them of. Continue reading
Britain’s military agreements with France just prior to the First World War were basically a gentleman’s agreement between the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey and the French military. It is perhaps understandable that the details were not made public by revealing them to parliament. It is a bit more surprising that the Cabinet were kept in the dark. It is even more surprising that the Prime Minister, Asquith, wasn’t in the loop either. Continue reading
The idea of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine would have made perfect sense in the nineteenth century. Nationalism was all the rage. Everyone wanted to be in a nation. The British and the French were there already. The Germans and Italians were working on it. Nationalism was opposed to hereditary monarchs and their empires and so was in a way a force for progress and revolution. Why shouldn’t the Jews get in on the act and seek to create their own homeland? Zionism was really just a logical extension of what was the general spirit of the age. As to the people who were already there in Palestine, well the rights of natives weren’t really on anyone’s mind at the time. Continue reading
The Romans fought three wars against the Carthaginians. The first two were deadly battles between great empires, but the third was simply a siege. The Romans found a pretext and used their superior forces to surround Carthage. The encirclement lasted four years. The Carthaginians defended themselves for as long as they could. But it was hopeless. Ultimately with the Romans in control of the land and the sea around the city there was only ever going to be one outcome. When the Romans finally broke in they killed all the men and sold the women and children into slavery. The city was destroyed and the ground ploughed up and sprinkled with salt to prevent a settlement of the area again. Continue reading
The Byzantine court during the reign of the ineffectual Arcadius in the late fourth century was run by two men. The emperor’s favourite at court was the corrupt and worldly Eutropius who ran the civil administration of the empire largely for his own benefit. The army was run by the Goth Gainas. Continue reading
I am working my way through an extended review of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I have reached the point at which we can start thinking of this as being a history of the Byzantine Empire. The term Byzantine to describe the Eastern Roman empire wasn’t commonly used in Gibbon’s time, though he uses that adjective often enough. It is often said that Gibbon disliked and disparaged the Byzantines, and it is from the start of Chapter 32 that the quote most often used to justify this idea comes.
In fact it is the first sentence. Continue reading
The reign of Constantine III was a precarious business. With the legions no longer holding the frontier of the Rhine and the Roman navy no longer in existence, the world was now one dominated by anyone who could pull together some effective mobile forces. The rule of the Caesars had been replaced by the rule of petty warlords. Constantine never had any solid power base he could draw from and was continually juggling alliances, bribes and trying to avoid being overrun by barbarians or killed by the representatives of the official Roman empire. You might have thought that nobody would want a job like that. But you’d be wrong, he had to face at least two major rebellions by people who wanted to replace him. Continue reading
The big news story at the moment is the rather spectacular failure of David Cameron’s attempt to oppose the election of Jean-Claude Junker as the next EU Commission President. He forced a vote in which he was only supported by Hungary. It is easy to criticise politicians for all sorts of things for which they are not remotely responsible, but sorting out votes really is the sort of thing they should be good at. Continue reading
Gaul And Spain Fall To The Barbarians – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 31 Part 5
My extended review of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire continues, and we have now reached part 5 of Chapter 31 where we see Gaul and Spain fall to the barbarians in the aftermath of the sack of Rome.
The sack of Rome by Alaric was dramatic and important, but what happened in the immediate aftermath is important too. Continue reading