Byzantium – A Tale of Three Cities BBC4


Dr Johnson is supposed to have said of Milton’s Paradise Lost that all admire but few have wished it longer.  The BBC’s three hour history of Istanbul aka Constantinople aka Byzantium on the other hand really could have done with being a good deal longer.  How is anybody supposed to tell the story of a place with such an event filled history in so little time?  Brevity and compression are great things in many ways, but you can take them too far.  Quite apart from having to leave so much out, you also just don’t get the sense of depth you need to appreciate such a large subject. Continue reading Byzantium – A Tale of Three Cities BBC4

Kindle Fire – Why I hate it

I loved my old simple black and white simple e-reader Kindle, and would probably still love it if I hadn’t given it to my son when I got my Kindle Fire. He is still using it and enjoying it. I got my Kindle Fire as a parting gift from my last employer. It was a logical progression to upgrade from one device that I used a lot to a better one. Continue reading Kindle Fire – Why I hate it

Genseric – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 33 Part 2


Genseric was tight lipped but passionate.  He set himself almost impossible objectives and used every tactic available to him to achieve them.  It is worth bearing in mind right from the start just how unlikely his career was.  The Vandals were not a big tribe and before Genseric they would not have been considered a particularly prominent one.  They had ended up in the empire rather more as refugees than as conquerors.  Even inside the empire they were not exactly the most successful of invaders.  At one point they had been so low on luck that they suffered a famine.  So they were very much the poor relations of the Goths.  At the point they enter our story they were in southern Spain where they were getting on rather badly with the neighbouring tribes. Continue reading Genseric – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 33 Part 2

Death of Honorius – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 33 Part 1

Death of Honorius

The reign of Honorius was eventful, but his actual life settled into a fairly sedate business at the centre of his court.  He didn’t travel much or indeed do very much.  His sister on the other hand had as varied a career as any woman in Roman history.  She was taken from Rome when it was sacked and became a Gothic queen.  With the death of her husband, Placidia was finally returned to her brother in exchange for a large stock of grain. But her position made settling down difficult, and her personality made it impossible.  She was forced to marry the successful general Constantius.  Although she objected to it in advance she resigned herself to it once it happened and made the best of it.   They had two children, Valentinian and Honoria. Constantius may have found his wife stoking his ambition, because some years into the marriage he was appointed as co-emperor.  This was unlikely to have been an idea that Honorius came up with.  It was much more plausibly the work behind the scenes of Placidia.   Continue reading Death of Honorius – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 33 Part 1

Theodosius II – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 32 Part 4

Theodosius II Constantinople

There are plenty of options to choose from for dating the start of the Byzantine Empire. But if you wanted one that would stand up in court, the reign of Arcadius is a pretty sound bet. The great Theodosius I was the last emperor to rule both halves of the empire unambiguously. He divided his inheritance between his two sons with Arcadius taking the eastern half, and as it turned out that court was to have a more or less continuous history from that point, the year 395, until the final end of the empire. Continue reading Theodosius II – Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 32 Part 4

Seaside Towns


There are big and weighty matters in the papers at the moment.  Should Scotland leave the United Kingdom?  Should the United Kingdom leave the EU?  Should NATO combat Russia and/or militant Islam?  These are all worthy and important, but in the middle of all this pops up the seaside town of Clacton.  This happens to be the scene of a by-election which might well return the first member of UKIP to the UK parliament.  At the time of writing the UKIP candidate has a strong lead in the polls so it is possible that history is about to be made in Clacton.  But what has history made of Clacton itself? Continue reading Seaside Towns

The Second Hand Book Fair In My Town

Book Fair

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 The Second Hand Book Fair In My Town

Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here by Karima Bennoune

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 Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here by Karima Bennoune