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 The rule of the Caesars had been replaced by the rule of petty warlords.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
Conservative MP Michael Fabricant has got himself into a bit of trouble over the last couple of days by saying on Twitter that he didn’t dare appear in an interview with a female human rights campaigner for fear of being unable to prevent himself from punching her ‘in the throat’. It was a vulgar thing to write and predictably enough led to a bit of storm in the media. In the short run it gave David Cameron, who has a knack for these things, the opportunity to disown Fabricant and show himself to be a decent man. Privately he probably welcomed the chance to detoxify the Tories a bit. In the longer run it will be a bit more of a nudge to women who don’t like being hit and and men who don’t approve of hitting them that the far right isn’t the place they want to be. Continue reading
I stumbled upon a video on Youtube which gives you a virtual tour of the famous caves in France where the Lascaux Cave Paintings were discovered. Anyone interested in history will be familiar with the images themselves, but seeing them in their context adds a whole new dimension. In particular I had realised just how deep they were. Continue reading
I am shocked that anyone should find a story about pop stars using drugs shocking. It turns out that the handsome and wholesome One Direction have been caught on film smoking marijuana. Compared to the behaviour of rock stars in the seventies only smoking marijuana would probably have been enough to count as wholesome, or even as conservative. If a story had got out that Hawkwind for example had been caught knocking back vitamin tablets and eating a salad that would have been more newsworthy. Continue reading
Politics should be about principles and policy. Inevitably it is also about personalities. Ideally it shouldn’t be about propaganda. If you believe in something you shouldn’t want to win a point by misleading someone.
In the eighties and nineties the Liberal Democrats used to engage in what they called pavement politics. This involved focusing their efforts in particular areas where they thought they had the best chance of being successful. This involved one particularly underhand tactic. In areas where the Conservatives were strong they would do their best to ‘squeeze’ the Labour vote by putting out leaflets pointing out that Labour couldn’t win. This was often done in local council wards where Labour in fact certainly could win, and from time to time where they actually did win. Continue reading
I noticed that Channel 4 had an opera by Handel scheduled one Saturday night in 1996. I like opera so I thought I would tape it. This being the nineties taping it literally meant making a physical copy on electromagnetic media. I plonked the tape in the video recorder and rather than wrestle with the elaborate procedure of setting the timer I just made a point of being by the telly when it was due to start and pressing the red button. I started watching it to see what it was like and to make sure the temperamental machine was actually doing its job. Within minutes I was hooked, and in the end sat through the whole three and a half hours. I wasn’t alone – my wife and small kids joined me and were similarly captivated. Continue reading