The Persians and the Romans had been longtime rivals. In fact from Julius Caesar’s time when Pompey had established hegemony over Armenia and Colchis the Persians had been either resisting further Roman expansion, attempting to subvert Rome’s clients in the region or when the wind was up their tails trying to push back into Egypt and Asia Minor to re-establish the classic Persian Empire of Darius and Xerxes.
But for most of that time the actual conflicts were rather indecisive. There was plenty of loss of life, but not much loss of territory. This pattern only began to break down when Justin picked a fight with the Persians.
The war started with aim of supporting Christians in Persarmenia from persecution by the zoroasteran magi. Well that was the pretext. In fact the Christians assassinated some satraps so there were shades of grey available for those interested in the rights and wrongs. The whole thing was quite likely got up by the Romans anyway. Justin was more strongly motivated by getting out of a treaty that included large annual payments to the Great King. The balance of power had also been upset by the Abysinians, allies of the Byzantines, being driven out of the Yemen. An alliance with the Turks opened up the prospect of forcing a war on two fronts on the Persians. It might even be three fronts if the Abysinians could be brought in. The Persians were still led by Chosroes I whose long and wise reign had earned him the title of Nushirvan. This means immortal soul and as he was in his late seventies this was apt. Surely his leadership skills must be on the decline by now must have been the calculation.
But although the plan looked good on paper Nushirvan wasn’t playing along with it and took to the field in person. It was quite a contrast to his younger rival who sat out the conflict in Constantinople.
The Persians were initially successful in pushing the Romans back. They raided Syria burning cities and carrying off loot. Nushirvan personally captured Dara and penetrated deep into Asia Minor before being defeated in a large set piece battle. Nushirvan himself only escaped with his life by crossing a river on the back of a swimming elephant. He died of natural causes shortly afterwards. He had been a worthy adversary of Justinian and it is a shame he went out on a bit of a low.
He was succeeded by his son Hormouz who had big shoes to fill and who failed to fill them. He started his reign with a massacre of potential opponents. He was obviously rather insecure as he affected to wear a tiara every day.
The new king was however active and up for a fight. He was ready to get out in the field in front of his troops.
When Maurice took over in Constantinople the balance changed and he drove the Persians back. The Persians were then attacked by the Turks who somehow managed to get their army allowed into Persian territory by a subterfuge. This sudden turnaround in the situation led to the Persian regime collapsing and in the ensuing chaos it looked possible that the empire would collapse with it. But as one of those great phrases that Gibbon was so good at coining put it – Persia was lost by a king: it was saved by a hero. A usurper called Bahram took over. He stabilised the Persian position. But he was soon to be deposed by Chosroes II – the son of Hormouz, who escaped to the Romans who help him regain the throne.
This meant that the Romans had in fact achieved to a large degree their original war aim and neutralised the Persian threat. They hadn’t done it quite as planned and not as decisively as they might have liked. But whatever they could now turn to their other problem.
Is there a way of keeping on Twitter without it taking too big a chunck of my life and my attention? I have tried going cold turkey a couple of times, but always came back to it. The basic problem with it is that it is too easy to engage with. You open the screen and straight away you can find a tweet to read. With a bit of searching you can find stuff you are interested in already predigested and ready to transfer directly from your phone to your brain. It is very much the information equivalent of a fast food burger. It has been optimised to give you what you want as quickly as possible with minimal effort on your part.
The Avars continued to occupy the area to the north of the Danube. The Chegan’s authority stretched across much of what is now Germany and Poland and so was quite capable of causing trouble for the Byzantines. He was initially kept quiet by expensive gifts. But he was a difficult customer. He demanded a Gold bed. When it was delivered he decided he didn’t like it and sent it back. He also asked for an elephant. I have no idea how difficult it was for the empire to obtain and transport such a large creature from presumably Persia, where they were a regular feature of the army, to somewhere in modern Hungary. Given how much elephants eat it sounds like quite a logistical challenge to me. So I am quite impressed. The Chegan however, wasn’t.
I’m not a fan of the British Conservative Party on the whole. But most long established organisations have both good and bad in their history, and the Tories have had their moments that command respect. And certainly as a body of people they aren’t uniformly bad. It is unfortunate that right at the moment they seem to be fielding not so much their B team but more a group of chancers that would normally have been shown the door long ago.
I’ll tell you one thing that bores me rigid. It’s the Royal Family. I have a reasonably high level of respect for the Queen, who somehow seems to have managed to keep a level of sense in an insane position. But basically the whole notion of a monarch in the modern age is bonkers. You can’t buy into it without sharing the bonkersness. I avoid as far as a I can all of the stories in the media that attempt to turn an anachronism into a soap opera. I pity the people born into it who can’t escape it no matter what. Basically I want nothing to do with it.
A news story today shows just how arbitrary much of history is. At the height of the Covid pandemic the UK government, suffering the worst death rate in Europe, gambled big on developing a vaccine quickly. This was very much something that suited the personality of the Prime Minister. Boris Johnson is notorious for a lack of attention to detail and for wanting to have his cake and eat it. A vaccine must have appeared to him to be a magic cure for his Covid problem.
Gambles sometimes pay off, and this one has given him some unexpected benefits. Not only did an effective vaccine get delivered in a very short time, the roll out also got off to a good start. In the meantime, the European Union’s similar programme didn’t come in so quickly. This meant that it was a double payout. It both countered the internal bungling of the day to day handling of the virus and allowed some points to be scored at the expense of the EU.
It’s easy to see the faults in other people’s political ideas. There has been a big uptick in simplistic philosophies lately. Trumpers believe in putting their state first, regardless of the international implications. Libertarians discount the benefits of the state’s activities. Brexiters think that getting rid of the influence of Brussels will make us freer. It isn’t hard to see the shortcomings of these viewpoints. They can be summed up in a few sentences and obviously are nowhere near adequate to the complexities, trade offs and downright cussedness of the real world.