Archive for the 'Rome' Category


November 12 2014

Augustus and his successors had made good civil servants out of predatory Roman business men of the “equestrian” class; Han Liu Pang [the first Han emperor] and his successors had made them out of predatory feudal gentry bred by the contending Sinic parochial states; Cornwallis and his successors had made them out of predatory commercial agents of the British East India Company.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Justin Martyr

November 8 2014

“You cannot fail to see that our having our heads cut off or being crucified or being thrown to the beasts or into bondage or to the flames or being subjected to all the other forms of torture does not make us abandon our profession of faith. On the contrary, the more of these martyrdoms that there are, the more we increase in numbers through the excess of conversions over martyrdoms.” – Justin: Dialogus, chap. 110 (Migne, J.-P.: Patrologia Graeca, vol. vi, col. 729).

Christian martyrs were not murderers.

Wikipedia on persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)


September 23 2014

Recluse in the palace and hermit in the camp […].

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

The age of Medina

July 31 2014

Thanks to the intuition of the discordant oligarchs of an oasis-state in the Hijāz, who had invited the rejected prophet of a rival community to make himself at home with them and try his hand at being their ruler, in the hope that he would bring them the concord which they had failed to attain by themselves, Yathrib became, within thirty years of the Hijrah, the capital of an empire embracing not only the former Roman dominions in Syria and Egypt but the entire domain of the former Sasanian Empire. [Footnote: Ibn Khaldūn suggests that the Primitive Muslim Arabs’ success in conquering the whole of the Sasanian Empire was a consequence of their conquest of the Sasanian imperial capital Ctesiphon, and that their contemporary failure to conquer more than a portion of the Roman Empire was a consequence of their inability to conquer the Roman imperial capital Constantinople (see the Muqaddamāt, translated by de Slane, Baron McG, (Paris 1863-8, Imprimerie Impériale, 3 vols.), vol. i, p. 333).] Yathrib’s title to remain the seat of government for this vast realm was indisputable on its juridical merits. This remote oasis-state was the territorial nucleus out of which the Muslim Arab world-empire had burgeoned in its miraculously rapid growth, and it was now also hallowed as Madīnat-an-Nabī, the City of the Prophet which had recognized his mission and had furnished him with home, throne, and sepulchre. This title was so impressive that de jure Medina remained the capital of the Caliphate at any rate until the foundation of Baghdad by the ʿAbbasid Caliph Mansūr in A.D. 762. Yet de facto the swiftly expanding dominions of the Prophet Muhammad and his successors were governed from Medina for no longer than thirty-four years; for the fact was that this oasis hidden away in the interior of the Arabian Plateau – a vaster, wilder, barer, emptier counterpart of the Plateau of Iran – had condemned itself to political nullity by the immensity of its political success.

Toynbee is referring to the thirty-four years from the Hijra (622) to the move to Kufa by the fourth Caliph Ali (regnabat 656-61) after the assassination of Uthman.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Euphrates to Rhine

July 15 2014

“Hinc movet Euphrates, illinc Germania bellum”. – Virgil, Georgic I, l. 509.

“Here the Euphrates, there Germany wages war.” Americans might see their last century partly in those terms.

Virgil was writing about the time of the confrontation of Octavian and Mark Antony at Actium.

The North Sea is connected with the Black Sea via the Main-Danube canal in Bavaria (the Main being a tributary of the Rhine), which was opened in its present form in 1992. It replaced the Ludwig Canal.

The Kara Su or Western Euphrates, one of the Euphrates’ two sources (the other is the Murat Su or Eastern Euphrates), rises in northeastern Turkey only sixty miles from the southeastern corner of the Black Sea. Kara means black. (Murat is a proper name.) So only a sixty-mile portage separates the Gulf from the North Sea.

The Tigris also rises in Turkey, a little further south.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

The discovery of Roman London

April 8 2014

The bombing that ravaged Victorian London brought Roman London to light. When, after the end of the Second World War, the debris of Victorian London were being probed in order to find solid ground below them to carry the foundations for ponderous new buildings, these soundings revealed almost the whole of the tracée of the Roman city-wall, of which, previously, only a few fragments, here and there, had been located, and a Roman temple, dedicated to the god Mithras, was uncovered [1954] close to the starting-point of Watling Street, the Roman road that ran diagonally across Britain from Thames-side to Mersey-side. These excavations gave the measure of the rise in the level of the surface of the City of London within a span of eighteen centuries. It is impossible to estimate how much of this rise was due, before the Second World War, to deliberate destruction and how much to natural decay and to the excess of intake over discard which is a normal feature in the life of any city. The fate of London after the Roman evacuation and during the English invasion is unknown, and we also lack precise information about the extent of the destruction that was the price of London’s defeat, in A.D. 895, of a Danish armada’s attempt to force a passage, past London, up the Thames.

Wikipedia: “The first extensive archaeological review of the Roman city of London was done in the 17th century after the Great Fire of 1666.”

Roman London corresponds to the present City. It was mainly a civilian initiative, not a military base.

It was founded c AD 50 after the Claudian invasion. Ten years later it was sacked by the Iceni led by their queen Boudica. It was at its height in 122, when Hadrian paid a visit. The Wall was built between 190 and 225. By then, it was declining somewhat, perhaps as a result of the Antonine Plague. There were Romano-British as well as post-Augustinian bishops of London.

London passed from Middle Saxons (whence Middlesex) to the Kings of the East Saxons (Essex, regnabant 527-825) and/or their overlords, the Kings of Kent (regnabant fifth century-871) or East Anglia (regnabant sixth century-869) or Mercia (regnabant 527-918, but as client kings of Wessex from c 879).

The 895 armada was neither the first nor the last Danish attack. London was at the southern edge of the Danelaw. The Danes controlled it directly between 871 and 886 and later under Cnut. After the first occupation, London was reincorporated into Mercia. Mercia was then absorbed by Wessex (durabat 519-after 925).

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970

Rome on the eve of the First Romano-Punic War

February 25 2014

In the course of seventy years – 342-272 B.C. – Rome had imposed political unity, under her own ascendancy, on the whole of Peninsular Italy south of, but not including, the basin of the River Po.

342 was the year, at the beginning of the First Samnite War, in which the Romans defeated the Samnites at Mount Gaurus, and also the year in which Aristotle became tutor to the young Alexander at the court of Philip II at Pella.

These Roman conquests in Cisappennine Italy, rapid though they were, were neither so rapid nor so spectacular as the contemporary conquests of Alexander the Great in South-Western Asia.

Why Cisappennine if they were of the entire peninsula south of the Po? The word must mean south of where the Appennines start, but it seems odd to use it, since the Appennines run north-south, not west-east.

They were, however, not less momentous; for, as a result of them, the Roman Commonwealth made its entry on to the stage of Greek history as one of five Great Powers in an expanding Greek world. Two of the other four – the Carthaginian Empire and the Kingdom of Macedon – had already been on the map before the face of this map had been changed by the Macedonians’ and the Romans’ military achievements. The other two – the Achaemenian Empire’s Seleucid successor-state in South-West Asia and an insurgent native Egyptian Kingdom’s Ptolemaic successor-state in the Lower Nile Valley – were also old empires under new management. The Roman Commonwealth was the only one of the five that was new in reality. Rome had turned herself from a middle-sized city-state into a Great Power by imposing military and political unity upon Italy – an enterprise which had proved to be beyond the strength of the Etruscans in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. and of the Siceliot Greeks in the fifth and fourth.

An expanding Greek world had begun to impinge upon Italy 400 years before the Roman conquest of Italy, and the Roman Commonwealth was entangled in the Greek world because it included two important Italian pieces of it: Magna Graecia (what was left of it, after the infiltration of the Oscan barbarians in the fourth century B.C.) and a semi-Hellenized Etruria, particularly the Etruscan black country (Elba and Populonia).

Black country must refer to Greek-influenced black-figure Etruscan vase painting (seventh century BC-circa 480 BC).

This political entanglement raised questions that were social and cultural; for by the time, in the third decade of the third century B.C., when Rome’s conquest of Italy had thus brought Rome back into the Greek World again, Rome herself and the central Italian heart of her newly-built commonwealth had been out of touch, for some 150 years, with the main movement of Greek history. In the sixth century B.C. Rome had been a partly commercial and industrial city-state ruled by a despot, like the neighbouring Etruscan city-states and the leading Greek city-states of the day: Corinth, Sicyon, Miletus, Athens. But when, towards the end of the sixth century, Rome – again behaving like her more eminent contemporaries – had turned her despot out, she had had to pay for her self-liberation by falling into a state of isolation and weakness that had lasted for about a century; and, when she had exerted her reviving strength in the military and political enterprise of conquering Italy, she had built up her power by turning inland into a culturally and socially backward interior, into which the city-state dispensation had not yet penetrated and in which the native population was therefore more malleable than it was in older and more advanced communities with more deeply engraved memories of a more glorious past. In moulding this native central Italian human raw material, Rome had the institutional advantage of being, herself, a city-state of old standing; but, by the third century B.C., Rome’s way of life had come to be old-fashioned. It was a way that had been put out of date, east of the Adriatic, by the sweeping social and political revolution there in the generation of Alexander the Great; and in 264 B.C. there were at least four signal differences between Rome and some or all of the other Great Powers in the new world into which Rome had now been drawn as a result of her Italian conquests.

One of these differences was constitutional. Since the days of Alexander and his father Philip, the typical constitution of a Great Power in the Greek world had come to be monarchy. Carthage was the only third-century Great Power besides Rome in which the sovereign authority was a city-state. A second difference was a military one. In accordance with the pre-Alexandrine Greek city-state tradition, Rome’s fighting-force was a compulsory levy of free citizens possessing property of at least a minimum value; and the contingents furnished, under treaty, by Rome’s Italian confederate communities were levied from the same class. But there was only one other Great Power, besides Rome, that now still had a citizen army, and this was Macedon. The other three contemporary Great Powers – Carthage, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Seleucid Asia – all employed professional armies largely composed of foreign mercenaries. A third difference, closely connected with the military one, was economic. Rome’s citizen fighting-force consisted of farmers who made their living by subsistence farming, whereas all the other contemporary Great Powers, except Macedon, had gone over to cash-crop farming with a labour-force, not of citizen-soldiers, but of serfs or slaves who were exempt from military service. In the fourth place, there was an administrative difference which distinguished the Roman Commonwealth sharply from contemporary Ptolemaic Egypt, though not so sharply, perhaps, from any of the other three Great Powers. The Roman Commonwealth in the third century B.C. did not possess anything like the contemporary Ptolemaic professional civil service.

272 was the year of the surrender of Tarentum, the last stronghold of Pyrrhus of Epirus, which brought the cities of Magna Graecia under Roman control and left Rome free to complete its subjection of the Samnites. It was also the year, during the First Syrian War, in which Ptolemy II turned Egypt into the leading naval power in the eastern Mediterranean by defeating Antiochus I Soter.

Economic and Social Consequences of the Hannibalic War, lecture, John Rylands Library, Manchester, March 10 1954; Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Vol 37, No 1, September 1954

Spanish cities in the Americas

February 13 2014

[The] practice of diffusing Hellenism in the Roman Empire by means of the foundation of city-states was reproduced in the Spanish Empire of the Indies; and the Medieval Spanish institution which was thus propagated in the Americas in an Early Modern Age of Western history was in truth a renaissance of the Hellenic institution that had originally been propagated in Spain by Roman conquistadores from Italy. [Footnote: See Haring, C. H.: The Spanish Empire in America (New York 1947, Oxford University Press), p. 159.] Like the Hellenic cities planted in the post-Alexandrine Age by Macedonian empire-builders in South-West Asia and Egypt and by Roman empire-builders round all the shores of the Mediterranean, these Spanish cities in the Americas had individual founders; [footnote: See ibid., p. 160.] they were laid out on the rectangular plan that, in the history of Hellenic town-planning, had been inaugurated in the fifth century B.C. [footnote: See ibid., p. 161.] by Hippodamus’s layout of the Peiraeus; and each civitas had a rural territorium attributed to it, to use the Roman technical term. [Footnote reference to an earlier part of the Study.] In the more settled regions of the Spanish Empire these municipal territoria were conterminous; and, in the undeveloped regions on the fringes, some of them were of vast extent. [Footnote: See Haring, op. cit., pp. 161-2.] By A.D. 1574 about a hundred Spanish city-states had already been founded within the area of the Incaic Empire’s former domain. [Footnote: See ibid., p. 160, n. 4.]

So is all this about the Viceroyalty of Peru rather than of New Spain?

“The Spanish American provinces, therefore, were in many instances a collection of municipalities, the latter … being the bricks of which the whole political structure was compacted.” [Footnote: Ibid., p. 162.]

If these Spanish colonial city-states thus resembled the post-Alexandrine Hellenic colonial city-states in serving as the cells of an intrusive alien régime’s administrative and judicial organization, they likewise resembled them in enjoying little more than a simulacrum of local self-government; for they had no sooner been founded than the Crown took into its own hands the appointment of the municipal officers. [Footnote: See ibid., pp. 164-5.] Above all, they resembled their Hellenic prototypes in being parasitic.

“In the Anglo-American colonies the towns grew up to meet the needs of the inhabitants of the country: in the Spanish colonies the population of the country grew to meet the needs of the towns. The primary object of the English colonist was generally to live on the land and derive his support from its cultivation; the primary plan of the Spaniard was to live in town and derive his support from the Indians or Negroes at work on plantations or in the mines. … Owing to the presence of aboriginal labour to exploit in fields and mines, the rural population remained almost entirely Indian.” [Footnote: Haring, op. cit., pp. 160 and 159.]

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Emperors of Rome

February 5 2014

Emperors of Rome final cover

Reluctant churchmen in late antiquity

December 23 2013

Three historic figures, who each gave a decisive turn to the development of the Catholic Church in the West, were recruits from the secular Roman imperial public service.

The section called Civil Services in which this appears mentions, but doesn’t discuss, the survival of a Roman civil service in Italy and Gaul under the barbarians. He had earlier discussed the survival of Roman law.


Ambrosius (vivebat circa A.D. 340-97) was the son of a civil servant who had reached the peak of his profession by attaining the office of praetorian prefect in the Gauls; and the future Saint Ambrose was following in his father’s steps as a young and promising governor of the two North Italian provinces of Liguria and Aemilia when in A.D. 374, to his astonishment and consternation, he was dragged out of the rut of an assured official career and was hustled into the episcopal see of Milan by a popular impetus that did not wait to ask his leave.


Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (vivebat circa A.D. 490-585) [sic] spent his working life on the thankless – and, as his [lay] colleague Boethius’s fate proved, perilous – task of administering a Roman Italy in the service of a barbarian war-lord [Theodoric, who had Boethius executed in 524]. It was only after his retirement from secular public life that Cassiodorus found a creative use for a literary archaism that had been an impediment to his draftsmanship as a Minister of State. In his latter days he turned a rural property of his in the toe of Italy – the Vivarium, in the district of Squillace [Calabria] – into a monastic settlement that was the complement of Saint Benedict’s foundation at Monte Cassino. Saint Benedict’s school of monks broken-in, by the love of God, to hard physical labour in the fields could not have done all that it did do for a nascent Western Society if it had not been wedded, at the start, to a Cassiodoran school that was inspired by the same motive to perform the mentally laborious task of copying the Classics and the Fathers.


As for Gregory the Great (vivebat circa A.D. 540-604), he abandoned the secular public service, after serving as Praefectus Urbi, in order to follow Cassiodorus’s example by making a monastery out of his ancestral palace in Rome, and he was thereby led, against his expectation and desire, into becoming one of the makers of the Papacy.

Two country gentlemen.

After citing the names of these three great luminaries, we may single out, among the lesser lights, two country gentlemen, Gaius Sollius Modestus Apollinaris Sidonius of Auvergne (vivebat A.D. 430-83) and Synesius of Cyrene [Libya] (vivebat A.D. 370-415), who were both drawn out of a life of innocent but uncreative literary dilettantism when their local countryside was engulfed in the oecumenical catastrophe of their age. Both of them responded nobly to this personal challenge by taking on their shoulders the burdens, anxieties, and perils of local leadership; and each found that he could best perform an arduous duty, that he would not shirk, by allowing himself to be made bishop of his local community.

Five careers.

Diverse as the origins and histories of these five personalities were, they had four things in common. For all of them except, perhaps, Cassiodorus, their ecclesiastical career went against the grain. Ambrose was aghast at being made a bishop, while Synesius and Sidonius half-whimsically acquiesced in a role which evidently struck them as being, to say the least, incongruous. Gregory was as reluctant to be made seventh deacon [one of the seven deacons of Rome], apocrisiarius [papal ambassador to Constantinople], and pope, and even to become abbot of his own monastery, as he had been eager to enrol himself as an ordinary monk. The second common feature in these five ecclesiastical careers was that all these ci-devant lay notables were constrained, willy-nilly, to employ their secular administrative gifts and experience in the Church’s service. In the third place, they found a scope for the use of this mundane faculty in the ecclesiastical field which they had not found in secular life. And, finally, they eclipsed their own performance as ecclesiastical administrators by their prowess on the spiritual plane. Thus, when the break-up of the universal state for whose administrative service they had been educated had deprived these Roman honestiores of the possibility of following secular public careers, they responded to this formidable challenge by entering the service of the Christian Church and devoting all their powers to assisting in the creation of a new order of society.

Was Ambrose’s appointment to Milan connected with the “break-up” of the Empire? It happened under Valentinian I.

Cassiodorus and Gregory lived during the upheaval caused by the reconquest of Italy from the Goths by Justinian, the epidemics and famine that followed, an abortive invasion by the Franks and then the arrival of the Lombards, leaving Byzantium with a foothold mainly in the south (535-68).

Cassiodorus retired to his monastery after Justinian had retaken the south.

Gregory was Prefect of Rome under the Lombards. Was he deprived of the possibility of following a secular public career? Did Gregory follow the rule of St Benedict?

Sidonius and Synesius had both held secular office. Sidonius lived through the invasion of Arian Visigothic Gaul by pagan Franks.

Synesius must, in Ptolemais, have been affected by the disruption caused by the Visigoths’ sack of Rome, but the Vandals did not arrive in Africa until after his death. Was he ever a country gentleman?

The Church’s history is full of stories of reluctance. Basil Hume received the news of his appointment to the archbishopric of Westminster during dinner at Ampleforth in 1976 and remarked later “I must confess I did not enjoy the rest of the meal”.

A tap on the shoulder in a monastery is different from a tap during a Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang or a Baath Party plenum in Baghdad.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The pitchfork and the flute

November 23 2013

It was Human Nature that Horace had in mind when he wrote that Nature will always keep on coming back at you, even if you drive her out with a pitchfork; [footnote: “Naturam expellas furcâ, tamen usque recurret.” – Horace, Epistulae I, x, 24.] and, in the Subconscious Psyche’s repertory of “primordial images”, this Nature that is Man’s inseparable and intractable companion is expressively portrayed as a bull. This creature, far stronger physically than Man, which Man has precariously subjugated by the exercise of his Intellect and his Will, is an apt symbol for those subconscious principalities and powers in the Psyche which are so much more difficult for the Intellect and the Will to cope with than any veritably non-human living creature is.

Two antithetical alternative policies for coping with this psychic bull are commended in two significant myths. In the Mithraic myth a hero slays the monster and staggers forward with his victim’s inseparable carcase weighing on his shoulders. In the Zen Mahayanian Buddhist myth a boy-herdsman makes friends with the great ox and comes home riding on the monster’s back to the music of the rider’s flute. The boy’s deft diplomacy is a more effective way of dealing with Man’s problem than the hero’s crude resort to force; for the force which sometimes recoils upon its user, even when Non-Human Nature is its target, is a wholly inappropriate instrument for dealing with the psychic bull.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

A rival civilization of the proletariat

November 21 2013

Greek civilization […] was eventually supplanted by a rival civilization of the proletariat – the Christian Church.

From chapter called History contributed by Toynbee to RW Livingstone, editor, The Legacy of Greece, Essays by Gilbert Murray, W. R. Inge, J. Burnet, Sir T. L. Heath, D’Arcy W. Thompson, Charles Singer, R. W. Livingstone, A. Toynbee, A. E. Zimmern, Percy Gardner, Sir Reginald Blomfield, OUP (Oxford at the Clarendon Press), 1921

The horror of the Hannibalic war

November 20 2013

The Hannibalic war in Italy was, very probably, the most terrible war that there has ever been, not excepting the recent war in Europe. The horror of that war haunted later generations, and its mere memory made oblivion seem a desirable release from an intolerable world.

Nil igitur mors est adnos neque pertinet hilum,
quandoquidem natura animi mortalis habetur.
et velut anteacto nil tempore sensimus aegri,
ad confligendum venientibus undique Poenis,
omnia cum belli trepido concussa tumultu
horrida contremuere sub altis aetheris oris,
in dubioque fuere utrorum ad regna cadendum
omnibus humanis esset terraque marique,
sic, ubi non erimus, cum corporis atque animai
discidium fuerit quibus e sumus uniter apti,
scilicet haud nobis quicquam, qui non erimus tum,
accidere omnino poterit sensumque movere,
non si terra mari miscebitur et mare caelo.

That is a passage of Lucretius (iii. 830-842) which follows upon an elaborate argument to prove that death destroys personality and that the soul is not immortal. Here is an attempt at a translation:

“So death is nothing to us and matters nothing to us, since we have proved that the soul is not immortal. And as in time past we felt no ill, when the Phoenicians were pouring in to battle on every front, when the world rocked with the shock and tumult of war and shivered from centre to firmament, when all mankind on sea and land must fall under the victor’s empire and victory was in doubt – so, when we have ceased to be, when body and soul, whose union is our being, have been parted, then nothing can touch us – we shall not be – and nothing can make us feel, no, not if earth is confounded with sea and sea with heaven.”

Lucretius wrote that about a hundred and fifty years after Hannibal evacuated Italy, but the horror is still vivid in his mind, and his poetry arouses it in our minds as we listen. The writer will never forget how those lines kept running in his head during the spring of 1918.

But the victors suffered with the vanquished in the common ruin of civilization. The whole Mediterranean world, and the devastated area in Italy most of all, was shaken by the economic and social revolutions which the Roman wars brought in their train. The proletariat was oppressed to such a degree that the unity of society was permanently destroyed and Greek civilization, after being threatened with a violent extinction by Bolshevik outbreaks – the slave wars in Sicily, the insurrection of Aristonikos and the massacres of Mithradates in Anatolia, the outbreaks of Spartakos and Catilina in Italy – was eventually supplanted by a rival civilization of the proletariat – the Christian Church.

From synoikismos to dissolution (old post).

From chapter called History contributed by Toynbee to RW Livingstone, editor, The Legacy of Greece, Essays by Gilbert Murray, W. R. Inge, J. Burnet, Sir T. L. Heath, D’Arcy W. Thompson, Charles Singer, R. W. Livingstone, A. Toynbee, A. E. Zimmern, Percy Gardner, Sir Reginald Blomfield, OUP (Oxford at the Clarendon Press), 1921

Stepsons of Italy

November 4 2013

In the Roman Empire […] the military cantonments and civilian colonies acted as social “melting-pots”. [Footnote: The Roman Army’s role in propagating the Latin version of the Hellenic culture in the Greek-speaking and Oriental provinces of the Roman Empire and at the same time introducing Greek and Oriental influences into the Latin western provinces is described in Hahn, L.: Rom und Romanismus (Leipzig 1906, Dieterich), pp. 160-6.] The ferment must have been particularly active in the Roman colony planted in 45 B.C. by Caesar at Corinth, since the Roman citizens whom Caesar settled here were freedmen; and these “stepsons of Italy” [footnote: “Quorum noverca est Italia” (Velleius Paterculus, C.: Historia Romana, Book II, chap. iv, § 4)] – as Publius Scipio Aemilianus had once called the free populace of the city of Rome to their face, in contemptuous allusion to the servile source to which so many of them owed their origin, even as early as Aemilianus’s day – were drawn from all quarters of the Hellenic World and its hinterlands. In their settlement at Corinth, Caesar’s freedman-colonists were merely consummating a process of pammixia [sic] of which they themselves were earlier products.

Wasn’t Velleius’s first name either Marcus or Gaius? Rome differed from Greek city-states in allowing freed slaves to become citizens. Citizenship was a privilege granted to the inhabitants of particular communities. There were categories of citizenship. With the Edict of Caracalla in 212, all free men in the Empire became full citizens.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Rome and China

August 18 2013

The Roman Empire and the Han Empire [established 206 BC] had coexisted, not only on the face of the same planet but within the bounds of the same continent, for some two hundred years [27 BC-AD 220] without ever coming into direct military or even political contact with one another – if the diplomatic mission from Marcus Aurelius, whose arrival in A.D. 166 [Footnote: See Franke, O.: Geschichte des Chinesischen Reiches, vol. i (Berlin and Leipzig 1930, de Gruyter), p. 404.] is recorded in the Posterior Han Dynasty’s annals [tenth century], is to be written off as having been in reality perhaps no more than an isolated private commercial venture – and in this classic case even the convulsions of one of the two contemporary empires in its death agony did not impinge upon the survivor, as a post-Sumeric Völkerwanderung had impinged upon the Egyptiac World. When the Han Empire went to pieces at the turn of the second and third centuries of the Christian Era, the inhabitants of the Roman Empire remained unaware that an earth-shaking event was occurring at the opposite extremity of the Old World; and conversely, when, some two hundred years later, the Roman Empire in its turn went to pieces at a time when, in the Far East, a new society was beginning to emerge from the Han Empire’s ruins, this nascent Far Eastern Civilization was not thrown back into chaos by the Roman Empire’s fall. In the days of the Han Empire and the Roman Empire, human destinies had not yet been gathered into one basket, and so, though some eggs were constantly being broken, there were always others left intact.

Romano-Chinese relations: records possible post-Han contact and other matters, but contradicts nothing here.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

A Ciceronian and no Christian

August 8 2013

Jerome [dreamed] that he was hailed before the heavenly tribunal of Christ; was convicted by his divine judge of being still a Ciceronian and no Christian; and was reprieved only thanks to the intercession of the consistory and in consideration of an oath which he swore by Christ’s name, binding himself never to read any profane literature any more: “si legero, te negavi” [“If I read, I reject you”] (Hieronymus [Jerome]: Epistulae, No. xxii ad Eustochium, chap. 30).

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The King of the Wood

July 15 2013

… or, A priest and a murderer

“Who does not know Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough? The scene, suffused with the golden glow of imagination in which the divine mind of Turner steeped and transfigured even the fairest natural landscape, is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of Nemi, ‘Diana’s Mirror,’ as it was called by the ancients. No one who has seen that calm water, lapped in a green hollow of the Alban hills, can ever forget it. The two characteristic Italian villages which slumber on its banks, and the equally Italian palazzo whose terraced gardens descend steeply to the lake, hardly break the stillness and even the solitariness of the scene. Dian [sic] herself might still linger by this lonely shore, still haunt these woodlands wild.

“In antiquity this sylvan landscape was the scene of a strange and recurring tragedy.”

… the opening of the most influential book on comparative religion ever published. The Alban hills are south of Rome. The Pope has his summer palace at Castel Gandolfo by Lake Albano, north of Lake Nemi.

“On the northern shore of the lake, right under the precipitous cliffs on which the modern village of Nemi is perched, stood the sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis, or Diana of the Wood. The lake and the grove were sometimes known as the lake and grove of Aricia. […] In this […] grove there grew a certain tree round which at any time of the day and probably far into the night a strange figure might be seen to prowl. In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy. He was a priest and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead. Such was the rule of the sanctuary. A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him he held office till he was himself slain by a stronger or a craftier.

“[…] No one will probably deny that such a custom savours of a barbarous age and, surviving into imperial times, stands out in striking isolation from the polished Italian society of the day, like a primeval rock rising from a smooth-shaven lawn. It is the very rudeness and barbarity of the custom which allow us a hope of explaining it. […] For recent researches into the early history of man have revealed the essential similarity with which, under many superficial differences, the human mind has elaborated its first crude philosophy of life. Accordingly if we can show that a barbarous custom, like that of the priesthood of Nemi, has existed elsewhere; if we can detect the motives which led to its institution; if we can prove that these motives have operated widely, perhaps universally, in human society, producing in varied circumstances a variety of institutions specifically different but generically alike; if we can show, lastly, that these very motives, with some of their derivative institutions, were actually at work in classical antiquity; then we may fairly infer that at a remoter age the same motives gave birth to the priesthood of Nemi. […]

“I begin by setting forth the few facts and legends which have come down to us on the subject. According to one story the worship of Diana at Nemi was instituted by Orestes, who, after killing Thoas, King of the Tauric Chersonese (the Crimea), fled with his sister to Italy, bringing with him the image of the Tauric Diana. The bloody ritual which legend ascribed to that goddess is familiar to classical readers; it is said that every stranger who landed on the [Crimean] shore was sacrificed on her altar. But transported to Italy, the rite assumed a milder form. Within the sanctuary at Nemi grew a certain tree of which no branch might be broken. Only a runaway slave was allowed to break off, if he could, one of its boughs. Success in the attempt entitled him to fight the priest in single combat, and if he slew him he reigned in his stead with the title of King of the Wood (Rex Nemorensis). Tradition averred that the fateful branch was that Golden Bough which, at the Sibyl’s bidding, Aeneas plucked before he essayed the perilous journey to the world of the dead. The flight of the slave represented, it was said, the flight of Orestes; his combat with the priest was a reminiscence of the human sacrifices once offered to the Tauric Diana. This rule of succession by the sword was observed down to imperial times; for amongst his other freaks Caligula, thinking that the priest of Nemi had held office too long, hired a more stalwart ruffian to slay him.


“Such then are the facts and theories bequeathed to us by antiquity on the subject of the priesthood of Nemi. From materials so slight and scanty it is impossible to extract a solution of the problem. It remains to try whether the survey of a wider field may not yield us the clue we seek. The questions to be answered are two: first, why had the priest to slay his predecessor? and second, why, before he slew him, had he to pluck the Golden Bough? The rest of this book will be an attempt to answer these questions.”


The book is James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. I have referred to the first, two-volume, edition of 1890. The second, in 1900, was in three volumes. The third, published between 1906 and 1915, was in twelve. I have omitted the footnotes here, which give his sources (Ovid, Cato quoted by Priscian, Virgil, Servius, Strabo, Pausanias, Solinus, Suetonius).

Frazer wrote in a supplementary volume in 1936: “When I first put pen to paper to write The Golden Bough I had no conception of the magnitude of the voyage on which I was embarking; I thought only to explain a single rule of an ancient Italian priesthood.”

The Golden Bough became a worldwide comparative study.


A runaway slave is the insecure master or temporary priest-king of a wood sacred to Diana. He can be ousted by another in a trial by combat, provided that the other has first broken the Golden Bough.

The sacrifice of the priest-king is an echo of the human sacrifices once regularly offered to Diana in the Crimea (post). The cult of Diana was thought to have been brought to Nemi by Orestes (Servius’s commentary on the Aeneid, but not, as far as I can tell, the Aeneid itself, and there is no historical or archaeological evidence to support the story). The flight of the slave represents the flight of Orestes into exile. Whether or not Diana had a Crimean connection, she became conflated in Italy with the Greek Artemis. The Golden Bough is a reminiscence of the bough once plucked by Aeneas before he began his journey to the underworld (Virgil, Aeneid, Book VI).

Pausanias mentions another deity, Hippolytus (Virbius), the son of Theseus. So do Virgil and Ovid. “The Aricians tell a tale … that when Hippolytus was killed, owing to the curses of Theseus, Asclepius raised him from the dead. On coming to life again he refused to forgive his father; rejecting his prayers, he went to the Aricians in Italy [was carried there by Diana herself]. There he became king and devoted a precinct to Artemis, where down to my time the prize for the victor in single combat was the priesthood of the goddess. The contest was open to no freeman, but only to slaves who had run away from their masters.” Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book II, 27, 4.

What is Frazer’s justification for implying, as he does, that this is a “secondary” foundation myth?

By the time Caligula interfered in the succession of priest-kings, the murder-succession had devolved into a gladiatorial combat in front of an audience.

A statue of Diana stood in the sacred grove of Aricia in front of the temple of Diana Nemorensis. Vitruvius, in the first century BC, describes the temple as archaic and “Etruscan” in form. The image was standing at least as late as 43 BC, when it appears in coinage. The votive offerings, none earlier than the fourth century BC, found in the grove portray her as a huntress, and as blessing men and women with offspring and granting expectant mothers an easy delivery.

Ovid gives a poetic account of the priesthood of Nemi in his Fasti, Book III. Strabo says: “and in fact a barbaric, and Scythian, element predominates in the sacred usages, for the people set up as priest merely a runaway slave who has slain with his own hand the man previously consecrated to that office; accordingly the priest is always armed with a sword, looking around for the attacks, and ready to defend himself.” Geographica, Book V, 3, 12.

What, then, are the answers to Frazer’s questions? “Why had the priest to slay his predecessor? and second, why, before he slew him, had he to pluck the Golden Bough?”

I can suggest them by quoting from two later passages in the first volume of that first edition. Not having read everything, I may not be choosing the best ones.

“Since the King of the Wood could only be assailed by him who had plucked the Golden Bough, his life was safe from assault so long as the bough or the tree on which it grew remained uninjured. [My italics.] In a sense, therefore, his life was bound up with that of the tree; and thus to some extent he stood to the tree in the same relation in which the incorporate or immanent tree-spirit stands to it. The representation of the tree-spirit both by the King of the Wood and by the Golden Bough (for it will hardly be disputed that the Golden Bough was looked upon as a very special manifestation of the divine life of the grove) need not surprise us, since we have found that the tree-spirit is not unfrequently thus represented in double, first by a tree or a bough, and second by a living person.

“On the whole then, if we consider his double character as king and priest, his relation to the Golden Bough, and the strictly woodland character of the divinity of the grove, we may provisionally assume that the King of the Wood, like the May King and his congeners of Northern Europe, was deemed a living incarnation of the tree-spirit. As such he would be credited with those miraculous powers of sending rain and sunshine, making the crops to grow, women to bring forth, and flocks and herds to multiply, which are popularly ascribed to the tree-spirit itself.”


“If the course of nature is dependent on the man-god’s life, what catastrophes may not be expected from the gradual enfeeblement of his powers and their final extinction in death? There is only one way of averting these dangers. The man-god must be killed as soon as he shows symptoms that his powers are beginning to fail, and his soul must be transferred to a vigorous successor before it has been seriously impaired by the threatened decay. The advantages of thus putting the man-god to death instead of allowing him to die of old age and disease are, to the savage, obvious enough. For if the man-god dies what we call a natural death, it means, according to the savage, that his soul has either voluntarily departed from his body and refuses to return, or more commonly that it has been extracted or at least detained in its wanderings by a demon or sorcerer. In any of these cases the soul of the man-god is lost to his worshippers; and with it their prosperity is gone and their very existence endangered. Even if they could arrange to catch the soul of the dying god as it left his lips or his nostrils and so transfer it to a successor, this would not effect their purpose; for, thus dying of disease, his soul would necessarily leave his body in the last stage of weakness and exhaustion, and as such it would continue to drag out a feeble existence in the body to which it might be transferred. Whereas by killing him his worshippers could, in the first place, make sure of catching his soul as it escaped and transferring it to a suitable successor; and, in the second place, by killing him before his natural force was abated, they would secure that the world should not fall into decay with the decay of the man-god. Every purpose, therefore, was answered, and all dangers averted by thus killing the man-god and transferring his soul, while yet at its prime, to a vigorous successor.”

Frazer is arguing that the tale of the priesthood of Nemi was an instance of a worldwide myth of a sacred king who must periodically die as part of a regular fertility rite.


The opening of The Golden Bough is misleading. I noticed this and sought corroboration. I could only find it in a piece by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian. I haven’t looked at commentaries that are only in print.

Frazer is explicit: “The scene [in Turner’s painting] […] is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of Nemi.”

No, it is not. He wanted his book to start at Nemi and with Turner. How much less elegant would the passage have been if he had had to admit to his readers that the Turner Golden Bough was in Campania.

The painting is based on the Aeneid. The Trojan hero, Aeneas, has come to Cumae, not Nemi, to consult the sibyl, a prophetess, who will take him to the underworld so that he can meet his father. The gateway to the underworld is at Lake Avernus, not Lake Nemi.

Cuma is near Naples, Nemi is near Rome. (How strange, when one thinks historically and culturally, or remembers deliciously-long train journeys in the ’70s, to realise that the distance between the two cities is, as the crow flies, little more than a hundred miles.)

The sibyl tells Aeneas that he can only enter the underworld if he offers Proserpine a golden bough cut from a sacred tree. Turner shows the sibyl holding a sickle and the freshly-cut branch in front of the lake. The dancing figures are the Fates. They and the snake in the foreground hint, amid the beauty of the landscape, at death and the mysteries of the underworld.

Only near the end of the second volume, in a footnote, does he write:

“Virgil (Aen. vi. 201 sqq.) places the Golden Bough in the neighbourhood of Lake Avernus. But this was probably a poetical liberty, adopted for the convenience of Aeneas’s descent to the infernal world. Italian tradition, as we learn from Servius, placed the Golden Bough in the grove at Nemi.”

Do we know whether Turner’s Golden Bough was based on sketches made at Nemi? He certainly visited both places. The Tate has sketches and watercolour studies of both Nemi and Avernus.

An earlier, less accomplished oil, from c 1798, also at Tate Britain, is called Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus.

When I write a Toynbee-Frazer post, I will point to some other (to my amateur eye) questionable statements in the book. Yet, though his views on kingship may have been qualified or superseded, Frazer is still regarded as a serious scholar, and was one.


A more benign ritual at Nemi was the festival of Nemoralia, or Festival of Torches, celebrated in August in honour of Diana and described by Ovid, Plutarch and Propertius. The Christian Feast of the Assumption is related to it. A procession of torches and candles would move around the lake. Worshippers and dogs wore wreaths of flowers. Offerings were made to Diana: messages written on ribbons tied to the altar or to trees, baked clay or bread models of body parts in need of healing, clay images of mother and child, tiny sculptures of stags, apples. Offerings of garlic to Hecate (who is associated with Iphigeneia).

Lake Nemi is also famous for Caligula’s floating palace and floating temple to Diana. The giant ships were raised from the lake-bed under Mussolini and a museum built for them in the town of Nemi. The museum was destroyed, perhaps by Americans, perhaps by Germans, in 1944. It re-opened in 1953 to house scale models (Museo delle navi romane).

Something numinous and mysterious comes across, perhaps not always intentionally, in nineteenth-century paintings and prints of the volcanic crater of Nemi, and even in modern photographs.

Frazer prefaces his first chapter with some lines from Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome:

“The still glassy lake that sleeps
Beneath Aricia’s trees –
Those trees in whose dim shadow
The ghastly priest doth reign,
The priest who slew the slayer,
And shall himself be slain.”

The Golden Bough exhibited 1834 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

JMW Turner, The Golden Bough, 1834; click to enlarge

Mystery religions

July 9 2013

Mystery religions – cults reserved to initiates – formed one of three types of Greco-Roman religion, the others being the imperial cult or ethnic religion particular to a nation or state, and the philosophic religions such as Neoplatonism. Mysteries supplemented rather than competed with civil religion. One could observe the rites of a state cult, be an initiate in one or several mysteries, and at the same time follow a philosophical school. In contrast to the compulsory public rituals of civil religion, initiation to a mystery was optional. The same gods could be worshipped inside and outside a mystery. Was Mithras mystery-only?

The Roman establishment objected to Christianity not on grounds of its tenets or practices, but because, unlike adherents of the mystery religions with which it was competing, Christians considered their faith as precluding their participation in the imperial cult.


Of the Eleusinian MysteriesDionysian Mysteries, Samothracian Mysteries and Orphic Mysteries, the first three may have been influenced by Thracian or Phrygian cults, but lasted, with whatever gaps in the Dark Age or at other stages, from the Mycenaean period until the end of paganism.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were annual initiation ceremonies held at Eleusis in Attica for the cults of Demeter and Persephone (Proserpina). Of all the ancient mysteries, they were held to be the ones of greatest importance.

The Dionysian (Bacchic) Mysteries were not connected with a particular place.

The mysteries on Samothrace in the northern Aegean predate Greek colonisation in the seventh century BC. The pantheon there included the Cabeiri and a Great Mother who is often identified with Demeter. Both may have originally been Phrygian. Samothrace formed a Macedonian national sanctuary during the Hellenistic period and remained an important site under Rome.

The Greek Orphic Mysteries (Orpheus) go back at least to the fifth century BC. When did they die out?


Some of the gods that the Romans adopted from other cultures came to be worshipped in mysteries – the Phrygian Cybele, the Thracian/Phrygian Sabazius, the Egyptian Isis, the Zoroastrian Persian Mithras. So did Adonis, who is related to the Mesopotamian Tammuz and the Egyptian Osiris.

The originally Phrygian cult of Cybele reached mainland Greece in the sixth century BC and, as a cult of Magna Mater, was officially adopted during the Second Punic War and again by Augustus.

The Phrygian cult of Attis, the consort of Cybele, reached the Greek world in the fourth century BC, if not earlier, and Rome in the first century CE.

The Phrygian cult of Sabazius entered the classical Greek world at an early stage and survived into the Roman Empire.

The ancient pharaonic gods Isis and her consort Osiris joined the Greek pantheon when Egypt was hellenised. The cult of Isis spread through the Roman Empire during the formative centuries of Christianity.

The Persian cult of Mithras entered the Roman world in the first century and was popular in the army. Wikipedia, citing Clauss, M., The Roman Cult of Mithras: “Soldiers were strongly represented amongst Mithraists; and also merchants, customs officials and minor bureaucrats. Few, if any, initiates came from leading aristocratic or senatorial families until the pagan revival of the mid 4th century [Julian]; but there were always considerable numbers of freedmen and slaves.”


Were Serapis and Sol Invictus ever worshipped as mysteries by initiates? Serapis was a god invented by Ptolemy I as a means of unifying the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. Ptolemy failed in his objective, but Serapis grew in popularity throughout the Roman period and often replaced Osiris as the consort of Isis in temples outside Egypt.

The cult of Sol Invictus from Aurelian to Constantine and beyond was perhaps a revival of the emperor Elagabalus’s cult of the Syrian sun-god from whom he took his name. What were the “oriental” and what were the “indigenous” elements in the Sol Invictus cult?

Jewish revolts, Christian non-violence

June 21 2013

In striking contrast to the series of Jewish insurrections against first Seleucid and then Roman rule during the three hundred years running from 166 B.C. to A.D. 135, the Christians never once rose in armed revolt against their Roman persecutors during the approximately equal period of time that elapsed between the beginning of Jesus’ mission and the conclusion of peace and alliance between the Roman Imperial Government and the Church in A.D. 313.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Ghosts of universal states

May 30 2013

The ʿAbbasid Caliphate of Baghdad was […] resuscitated in the shape of the ʿAbbasid Caliphate of Cairo, the Roman Empire in the two rival shapes of the Holy Roman Empire of the West and the East Roman Empire of Orthodox Christendom; the Empire of the Ts’in and Han Dynasties in the shape of the Sui and T’ang Empire of the Far Eastern Society in China. Such ghosts of universal states are conspicuous products of the historical phenomenon of “renaissance” or contact in the Time-dimension between a civilization of the “affiliated” class and the extinct civilization that is related to it by “apparentation”, and, in that aspect, they are dealt with in a later part of this Study.

The four representatives of this spectral species of polity that are here in question display wide differences from one another both in the timing of their evocation and in their subsequent fortunes. Whereas the Sui and T’ang Empire in the Far East and the Holy Roman Empire in the West were not evoked till after an interval of more than four hundred years since the de facto break-up of the universal state of which each of them was respectively a revival, [footnote: The Empire of the Posterior Han became impotent de facto circa A.D. 175; the Far Eastern Society in China was united politically under the Sui Dynasty in A.D. 581. The Roman Empire in the West became impotent de facto after the Clades Gothica of A.D. 378 or, at latest, after the death of the Emperor Theodosius I in A.D. 395; Charlemagne was crowned Emperor in St. Peter’s at Rome on Christmas Day, A. D. 800.] and the East Roman Empire not till after an interval of some hundred and fifty years, [footnote: The Roman Empire in the East ran out between the death of Justinian in A.D. 565 and the overthrow of Maurice in A.D. 602; the East Roman Empire was constructed by Leo Syrus (imperabat A.D. 717-40).] the ʿAbbasid Caliphate was resuscitated at Cairo less than three and a half years after its extinction at Baghdad. [Footnote: See Arnold, op. cit , p. 82, following Suyūtī: Husn-al-Muhddārah, vol. ii, pp. 53 seqq. and 57. The Caliph Mustaʿsim was put to death at Baghdad in February 1258; his uncle was installed at Cairo as the Caliph Mustansir in June 1261.] [The reference is to Arnold, Sir T. W.: The Caliphate (Oxford 1924, Clarendon Press) […].] From the date of their prompt installation in A.D. 1261 by the strong hand of the Mamlūk Sultan Baybars to the date of their almost unnoticed cessation as a result of the conquest and annexation of Egypt by Sultan Selīm I ʿOsmanli in A.D. 1517, the Cairene ʿAbbasid Caliphs were never anything more than the puppets that they were intended to be. [Footnote: When the first of them, Mustansir, showed signs of taking his office seriously, his Mamlūk patron Baybars packed him off to his death, on the forlorn hope of reconquering Baghdad from the Mongols, and installed another member of the ʿAbbasid House in his stead. This lesson was not forgotten by Caliph Hākim and his successors (see Arnold, op. cit., pp. 94-95).] The Holy Roman Empire, after starting as a mighty power in virtue of being imposed upon the Austrasian Frankish state at the culminating moment of its history, shared in the collapse which Charlemagne brought upon his ambitious political structure by recklessly overstraining its resources, and was never more than partially rehabilitated by the successive efforts and sacrifices of Saxon, Franconian, and Swabian heirs of this fatal incubus; yet it survived, at least as a name – the ghost of a ghost – for nearly a thousand years after Charlemagne’s death. [Footnote: Charlemagne died in A.D. 814; the Emperor Francis II Hapsburg renounced the title of Roman Emperor in A.D. 1806 […].] On the other hand the East Roman Empire in the main body of Orthodox Christendom and the Sui and T’ang Empire in the Chinese portion of the Far Eastern World fulfilled the intentions of their respective founders by becoming and remaining solid political realities – the East Roman Empire for more than 250 years [footnote: From the raising of the second Arab siege of Constantinople in A.D. 717 to the outbreak of the Great Romano-Bulgarian War in A.D. 977.] and the Sui and T’ang Empire for not much less than 300 [footnote: From the foundation of the Sui Empire in A.D. 581 to A.D. 878, when the T’ang regime became impotent de facto […].] – but this at the cost, on which their founders certainly never reckoned, of exhausting the strength of the still immature societies on whose life-blood these two lusty vampire-states waxed fat for a season. The common feature, conspicuous above these differences, that concerns us here is the status which these ghosts, like their originals, acquired and retained as founts of legitimacy.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

In the Saronic Gulf

May 25 2013

In the fatally long-drawn-out effort to transcend the institution of Parochial City-State Sovereignty – an effort which began with a tragically swift Athenian failure in the fifth century B.C. and ended no less than four hundred years later with a tragically belated Roman success – the historic sovereign city-states of Hellas played, from first to last, a role which was either negatively unconstructive or else positively mischievous. The appeal of Lampsacus and Smyrna to Rome in 193 B.C., which brought the Seleucid Empire to the ground, was inspired by the same perverse spirit that had once led the allies of Athens in the Delian League to rebel against their treaty obligations, and led Athens herself to transform the League into an Athenian tyranny; and the aberration of inward thought and feeling which was responsible for this perversity in outward behaviour was a stiff-necked persistence in idolizing the institution of City-State Sovereignty in an age when this institution had become inimical instead of serviceable to the life of the Hellenic Society. When this idolatry captivated and paralysed the ancient and famous communities which were the original sources of Hellenic light and leadership, the work of political construction, which had to be performed by somebody, was carried out crudely and painfully and slowly by communities which had been lying in obscurity, in the penumbra [Macedon and Rome], in the age when an Athens and a Corinth and a Chalcis and a Miletus had been the brilliant luminaries of the Hellenic firmament. And at the culmination and close of the Hellenic “Time of Troubles”, when this long labour and travail was on the eve of bearing a tardy and savourless fruit, a sudden view of four once magnificent Greek cities lying derelict within sight of each other, with their brilliance quite extinct, made an overwhelming impression on an experienced Roman statesman of the day.

“On the voyage home from Asia, when my ship was making for Megara from Aegina, I began to take my bearings of the regions round about. Behind me was Aegina, ahead of me Megara, to the right of me Peiraeus, to the left of me Corinth; and all these cities have had their floruit – only to lie now prostrate and ruinous for all eyes to see. I began to think to myself: ‘How monstrous it is for little creatures like ourselves, whose natural term of life is of the shortest, to grow indignant if any of us passes away or has his life taken from him, when the dead bodies of all these cities lie cast out here on this one spot. Servius, pull yourself together and remember that you have been born a son of man.’” [Footnote: Letter written by Servius Sulpicius Rufus to Marcus Tullius Cicero from Athens in 45 B.C. (Ad Familiares, iv. 5), upon receipt of the news of the death of Cicero’s daughter.]

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

Barbarism and religion

May 18 2013

“I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion […].”


Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol VII, Ch 71, Prospect of the Ruins of Rome in the Fifteenth Century – Four Causes of Decay and Destruction – Example of the Coliseum – Renovation of the City – Conclusion of the Whole Work, Strahan & Cadell, 1789. From Henry G Bohn, publisher, 1855.

Jerome’s dream

May 3 2013

The difficulty of persuading a sophisticated audience to give a hearing to an outlandish gospel would be great […] in any case; and the apostles to “the high-brows” would have deprived themselves in advance of all prospect of success if they had gone out of their way to antagonize their shy spiritual quarry at the outset by wantonly making the form of their creed as rébarbatif as the substance of it could hardly fail to seem to an aesthetically sensitive Hellenically-cultivated mind (“si quando … prophetam legere coepissem, sermo horrebat incultus” [“whenever […] I began to read the prophets, their language seemed to me uncouth”] – Saint Jerome, Ep. xxii ad Eustochium, chap. 30). These diplomatic considerations, however, were not the Fathers’ only motive, and indeed not even their strongest one, for resorting to the use of a cultural instrument which their church had officially condemned as frivolous at its best and, at its worst, pernicious. The evangelists of a cultivated pagan society were moved to address this audience in its own idiom chiefly because these evangelists themselves were mostly converts from these very pagan circles. Their conversion to an alien proletarian religion had not availed to break the spell of a pagan cultural heritage that was their birthright; and, when they used their pagan literary equipment for a religious missionary purpose, they were acting, not on calculation in cold blood, but spontaneously, con amore.

The abiding value of a pagan culture for Christian converts from a cultivated pagan milieu was demonstrated by the severity of the blow which Julian succeeded in dealing to the Christian community in the Hellenic World of his day by his shrewdly malicious stroke of making a professing Christian ineligible, ex officio religionis, for holding a teacher’s official licence […]. The Christian victims of this sly manoeuvre in a “cold” religious war were so hard hit by their exclusion from a pagan field of cultural activity, and were at the same time so well versed in a literature which was the common heirloom of both parties, that, according to the story (as told by Gibbon, Edward: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap, xxiii, following Sozomen), Christian men of letters “had recourse to the expedient of composing books for their own schools. Within a few months Apollinaris produced his Christian imitations of Homer (a sacred history in twenty-four books), Pindar, Euripides, and Menander; and Sozomen is satisfied that they equalled, or excelled, the originals”.

Julian’s stroke was a shrewd one because the Christians’ unwillingness to dispense with a pagan cultural instrument not only laid them open to a public exposure as hypocrites but also secretly vexed their own consciences and continued to vex them even when Julian was no longer there to taunt them with their inconsistency. At a time when Julian was dead and his Hellenic paganism was moribund, a Saint Jerome suffered the same inward spiritual discomfort from a tension between a Christianity to which he had dedicated himself and a pagan cultural heritage which he had failed to pluck out and cast from him (“bibliothecâ … carere non poteram” [“I was not able to be without the […] library”] – Saint Jerome, ibid.) as a Father Maffeus [sixteenth-century Italian Jesuit humanist] was to suffer, in his day, from a corresponding tension between a Humanism to which he had dedicated himself and a Christianity from which he had found himself unable to break loose. Jerome’s psychological conflict came to the surface of his consciousness in the celebrated dream in which he fancied that he was hailed before the heavenly tribunal of Christ; was convicted by his divine judge of being still a Ciceronian and no Christian; and was reprieved only thanks to the intercession of the consistory and in consideration of an oath which he swore by Christ’s name, binding himself never to read any profane literature any more: “si legero, te negavi” [“If I read, I reject you”] (Hieronymus [Jerome]: Epistulae, No. xxii ad Eustochium, chap. 30). Paganism had to become not merely moribund but extinct before the Christian heirs of a pagan Hellenic culture could play their part as Hellenism’s literary executors with an easy conscience.


Subbing point: last Jerome citation is presented inconsistently.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The closed sea

April 13 2013

The only Mediterranean waters that were a mare clausum to the Hellenes […] were those bounded by the north coast of North Africa west of a point just north by west of Carthage, by the south-east coast of Spain as far [east] as a point at some […] distance north-east of (the future site of) Cartagena, and by the Carthaginian insular possessions in the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, and the western tip of Sicily. For the light thrown upon the limits of this Carthaginian preserve by the terms of successive commercial treaties between Carthage and Rome see Strachan-Davidson, J. L.: Selections from Polybius (Oxford 1888, Clarendon Press), pp. 65-70.

Why “north by west” of Carthage?

Plus ultra!

Carthaginan Empire

The Carthaginian Empire before the First Punic War, 264-241 BC

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Aurelian’s deluded soldiers

April 10 2013

Aurelian used to say that the soldiers deluded themselves in supposing that the destinies of the Emperors lay in their hands. For he used to aver that it was God who had bestowed the purple and … had decided the period of his reign.

[Footnote: Anonymous post Dionem, Dindorf’s edition, p. 229.]

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Double great wars

March 17 2013

The social effect of any great war is to speed up the pace of social change; and, when, within the span of a single lifetime, one great war is followed by a second, the cumulative effect is much more than double that of a single great war. In our world in our time we are conscious of this overwhelming cumulative effect in our own experience of the wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45. In our own case, however, we have not yet had time to see beyond the beginning of the sequel; so perhaps we may find ourselves interested in looking at past instances in which we do know the whole story.

“Double great wars” are rare; but there were three of them in the history of the Graeco-Roman Civilization; and each of these pairs of wars had a decisive effect on the destinies of the society in which it was perpetrated. The first pair was the Archidamian War of 431-421 B.C. followed by the Decelean War of 413-404 B.C.; and this double great war – the Great Atheno-Peloponnesian War – was the occasion of the Greek Civilization’s breakdown. The second pair was the First Romano-Punic War of 264-241 B.C. followed by the Hannibalic [or Second Punic] War of 218-201 B.C.; and this double great war was the occasion of the Greek Civilization’s relapse into a débâcle after a brief third-century rally.

The Roman Empire gave the civilisation a reprieve by providing it with a universal state.

The third pair of great wars was the Romano-Persian War of A.D. 572-90 followed by its successor of A.D. 603-28; and this double great war was the occasion of the Graeco-Roman Society’s final dissolution.

Economic and Social Consequences of the Hannibalic War, lecture about the effects of the second of these double great wars, John Rylands Library, Manchester, March 10 1954; Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Vol 37, No 1, September 1954

Cf similar passage in Vol IX of the Study, published that year, partly quoted here, and see Hannibal’s Legacy, The Hannibalic War’s Effects on Roman Life, Vol I: Rome and Her Neighbours before Hannibal’s Entry, Vol II: Rome and Her Neighbours after Hannibal’s Exit, OUP, 1965

A Roman cold war

March 16 2013

Professor William McNeill comments [circa 1952]: “I feel that the Rome-Carthage relationship is a far more convincing parallel to contemporary conditions than the Rome-Parthia relationship. In the relations between Rome and Parthia mortal fear and the density of contact were, I believe, absent.” The present writer’s comment on this comment is that it was not too much to expect of American and Russian statesmanship in the sixth decade of the twentieth century of the Christian Era that it should stabilize the relation between the United States and the Soviet Union on a Romano-Parthian basis and save it from degenerating into a Romano-Carthaginian “irrepressible conflict”. […]

Or a Romano-Sassanid, I suppose.

The phrase “irrepressible conflict” was used by William H Seward at Rochester, NY on October 25 1858.

Seward was a US senator who had served as Governor of New York and would serve as Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He argued that the political and economic systems of North and South were incompatible, and that, due to this “irrepressible conflict,” the “inevitable collision” of the two systems would eventually result in the nation becoming “either entirely a slave-holding nation or entirely a free-labor nation”. He hoped that this would be by the operation of natural forces over time, not by war.

Carthage was probably founded in the second half of the ninth century BC and was destroyed in the Third Punic War, 149-146 BC. Rome was founded in the middle of the eighth.

The Arsacid Parthian Empire lasted from 247 BC to AD 224. It replaced the Seleucid and was replaced, in the reign of Alexander Severus, by the Sassanid.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Irish and Africans

March 4 2013

“Irish writers, how they saved our language, when it was worn thin and colourless by the use of centuries, and kept thin and colourless by the habits of journalism; kept thus for ever, it must have seemed, like Byzantine Greek; for the English didn’t care; it was easier to knit in one colour than in many, especially now that only one shade of wool was to be had in the market. But there came others in those days, foreigners who looked on our language and literature from without, Yeats and Synge, George Moore and James Joyce, for whom those simple Saxon words had a freshness and a mystery forgotten by their native users, and unrolling the worn and faded tapestry of the past, they uncovered fresh, gay patches, and making themselves material thereof, and going about the country to gather the dying art of speech, they wove according to their own native designs coloured stuffs that put all the former workmen to shame. And therefore though strangers, let them have a niche in the Temple of the English Tongue; like those Africans, Apuleius and Augustine, who recreated their Latin language in its long sterility.”


Richard Davenport-Hines, editor, Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Wartime Journals, IB Tauris, 2012.

America and Rome

February 22 2013

… or Ancient, famous states; or The vulgarians of  the west

Herbert Hart and I were speaking despairingly of the Americans, – these callow, touchy, boastful, flatulent invaders, who seem to think themselves, as politicians, a match for the case-hardened double-crossers of struggling, tortured Europe. Will they never see, I protested, that they are only great children, pampered children of the rich, among experienced and desperate sharpers? Will they never admit that Europe, though torn with immemorial conflicts, is still the foundry of the world’s ideas, while they are fresh from their luxurious nursery? But Herbert likened them to the Romans in the second century B.C., when they overran the East; and they look on us, he said, as the Romans looked upon the Greeks, miserable people, scratching about subtleties and upsetting the peace of the world. What interest have they in the ideas that divide Darlan from de Gaulle? Now I had recently been reading Mommsen, and I saw in terrible detail the picture he had suggested, – those sudden vulgarians of the west, like a fresh, loud, frothy heedless tidal wave, deluging the brilliant but atomised republics, the ‘ancient, famous states’ of the old world, and burying their splendid past in universal banality.”


Richard Davenport-Hines, editor, Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Wartime Journals, IB Tauris, 2012.

Those high-donnish journals are fascinating early Roperiana. The young man seems to parody his older self. Long swathes are about hunting. This passage is silly, but I suppose Hart and Trevor-Roper have a point.

The entry is from January 1943, when Trevor-Roper was in radio intelligence in MI6. Davenport-Hines does not identify the phrase “ancient, famous states”, but it is from a speech by Churchill at the Lord Mayor’s Day luncheon at Mansion House on November 10 1941 in which he warned, four weeks before Pearl Harbour, that Britain would fight on the side of the United States in the event of war between America and Japan. Trevor-Roper uses it again, without quotation marks, in The Last Days of Hitler. The idea for that book came in a conversation between Trevor-Roper, Hart and Dick White.

Wells on Daisy Miller

America and Rome: Google search

Slothful Germans

January 17 2013

“During the intervals between between bouts of war, [the Germans] [bracket in original] spend a little of their time in hunting, but most of it in doing nothing. They give themselves up to sleeping and eating, and it is precisely the bravest and most warlike of them that are the most idle. They leave it to the women, the old men, and the unfit members of the family to look after the home, the household, and the fields, while the warriors laze. It is a curious incongruity in their character that they should so love sloth and at the same time so hate tranquility” (Tacitus: Germania, chap. 15).

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

From Leo III the Isaurian to Francis II

December 1 2012

Imperial reigns:

Leo III Syrus (the Isaurian) 717-41

Charlemagne 800-14

Otto I 962-73

Otto III 996-1002

Henry IV 1084-1105

Frederick I (Barbarossa) 1155-90

Frederick II (Stupor Mundi) 1220-50

Francis II 1792-1806

Athênê Poliûchus, Athânâ Chalcioecus, Tychê Antiocheôn, Fortuna Praenestina, and the other deified combatants in a mêlée of conflicting parochial idols had eventually been called to order by being subordinated to the oecumenical supremacy of a Dea Roma and a Divus Augustus; and a post-Diocletianic absolute version of this consolidated worship of the concentrated power of a politically unified Mankind was formally revived in Western Christendom, a quarter of a millennium before the revival of city-state-worship in Lombardy, when Charlemagne was crowned as a Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in Saint Peter’s on Christmas Day A.D. 800.

The memory of this Carolingian evocation of a “holy” Roman ghost of an extinct Hellenic universal state cannot come into our minds without reminding us simultaneously that, since then, the same ghost had been re-evoked again and again in the Western World in the course of the eleven and a half centuries that had elapsed between the date of the coronation of Charlemagne at Rome and the time of the writing of these lines.

The all but fatal collapse of the nascent Western Christian Civilization itself, which had been the price of Charlemagne’s failure to resuscitate the Roman Empire in the West effectively, did not deter a Saxon Otto I from repeating his Austrasian predecessor’s attempt; and the subsequent failure of Otto’s attempt in its turn did not deter a Swabian Frederick I [Barbarossa] from attempting, for his part, to undo the political effects of the humiliation of a Franconian Henry IV at Hildebrand’s hands by employing against a triumphant Hildebrandine Church the refurbished spiritual weapon of a recently disinterred Justinianean Law. Thereafter, when Frederick Barbarossa’s experience had demonstrated that the necromancer’s wand provided by his Bolognese legists was a broken reed, his grandson Frederick Stupor Mundi set himself to reverse, at the eleventh hour, the cumulative disaster of Charlemagne’s, Henry IV’s, and Frederick I’s successive discomfitures – though the weapon in which Frederick II trusted to conjure a victory out of his forlorn hope was one which had missed fire, more than two hundred years back, in the hands of his Saxon predecessor Otto III.

This imaginative tenth-century forerunner of a thirteenth-century Stupor Mundi had sought to condense an insubstantial wraith of a defunct Imperium Romanum into at least a similitude of flesh and blood by transferring the seat of a rehabilitated Western Christian “Holy Roman Empire” from Western Christendom’s Saxon marches over against the North European barbarians to her Roman march over against Orthodox Christendom. At the turn of the tenth and eleventh centuries of the Christian Era the Ducatus Romanus was a patch of common ground on which the domains of the two Christendoms overlapped; and, in installing himself in the ci-devant Imperial City, Otto III had hoped to fortify the sickly counterfeit of the Roman Imperial Power that had been palmed off on Western Christendom by reinforcing it with tougher metal imported from a Byzantine mint. The success of Leo III Syrus’s revival of the Roman Empire in Orthodox Christendom had been as conspicuous as the failure of Charlemagne’s subsequent attempt to perform a corresponding feat of political necromancy in the West. Could not a clumsy Western necromancer’s abortive essay be salvaged by the Herodian expedient of turning to Western Christendom’s account the achievements of an Orthodox Christian necromancer’s virtuosity?

This complicated experiment of trying to raise the ghost of a dead civilization by employing a living civilization as a medium, which Otto III had failed to carry to success in the cultural crucible of a late-tenth century City of Rome, was repeated by Frederick II under more promising conditions in a thirteenth-century Kingdom of Sicily which was the East Roman Empire’s Transadriatic successor-state. The outcome of this more ambitious adventure in the black art of political alchemy was […] a war to the death between a pseudo-Byzantine “Holy Roman Empire” and a Hildebrandine Papal Roman Church which brought the victorious ecclesiastical combatant to the ground in the same ruin as his vanquished secular adversary and thereby compromised the future of a promising Western Christian attempt to explore a previously untried approach towards the goal of the baffling enterprise of Civilization. Yet the ghost of an obsolete Hellenic institution that had been so inauspiciously raised at the close of the eighth century of the Christian Era by an Austrasian king and a Roman patriarch was still able to induce fresh Western victims to feed it with their life-blood within full view of their infatuated predecessors’ unburied corpses.

By the time of the extirpation of Frederick II Hohenstaufen’s brood, the cumulus of historic disasters, that had gradually come to be associated with academic pretensions to the imperial prerogative in the West, had gathered round a tragic imperial crown into a lowering nimbus which might have been expected to serve as an effective deterrent against any further repetition of Charlemagne’s folly. Yet this scarecrow Caesarea Maiestas was eagerly appropriated by the architects of a Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy for the sake of the prestige that it could still lend to their strictly practical enterprise of providing an Early Modern Western World with a local carapace to protect it against Ottoman aggression in the Danube Basin; and, after the decay of the Ottoman Power had rendered a Hapsburg Empire’s service to the Western Civilization superfluous, [a Corsican adventurer proclaimed himself Emperor and on December 2 1804 crowned himself in Paris in the presence of Pope Pius VII].

The last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, abdicated on August 6 1806.

Leo the Isaurian, for Toynbee, is the real founder of a remodelled Orthodox Christian Roman Empire in the east:

The Roman Empire in the East ran out between the death of Justinian in A.D. 565 and the overthrow of Maurice in A.D. 602, the East Roman Empire was constructed by Leo Syrus (imperabat A.D. 717-40).

All Byzantine Emperors regarded themselves as “Roman” Emperors. The first use of the word “Byzantine” was in 1557, when the German historian Hieronymus Wolf published his Corpus Historiæ Byzantinæ, a collection of historical sources. The term comes from Byzantium, the name of Constantinople before it became the capital of Constantine.

In 812 the emperor Michael I Rhangabes recognised Charlemagne as Emperor, although not necessarily as “Emperor of the Romans”. What were the relations between the two emperors between 962 and 1453?

The second and third Romes


A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Persia, Macedon, Rome

November 10 2012

[…] the successive overthrows of the Achaemenian Empire by Macedon and of Macedon by Rome, [footnote: See Polybius: Oecumenical History, Book XXIX, chap. 21, in which the historian of Macedon’s overthrow by Rome comments on a passage, commenting on Macedon’s triumph over Persia, which he quotes from the work of his predecessor Demetrius of Phalêrum.] […].

Here is the passage in Polybius. WR Paton, translator, Loeb, 1922-27, online here:

“So then often and bitterly did Perseus [the last king of Macedon, defeated at Pydna] call to mind the words of Demetrius of Phalerum. For he, in his treatise on Fortune, wishing to give men a striking instance of her mutability asks them to remember the times when Alexander overthrew the Persian empire, and speaks as follows: ‘For if you consider not countless years or many generations, but merely these last fifty years, you will read in them the cruelty of Fortune. I ask you, do you think that fifty years ago either the Persians and the Persian king or the Macedonians and the king of Macedon, if some god had foretold the future to them, would ever have believed that at the time when we live, the very name of the Persians would have perished utterly – the Persians who were masters of almost the whole world – and that the Macedonians, whose name was formerly almost unknown, would now be the lords of it all? But nevertheless this Fortune, who never compacts with life, who always defeats our reckoning by some novel stroke; she who ever demonstrates her power by foiling our expectations, now also, as it seems to me, makes it clear to all men, by endowing the Macedonians with the whole wealth of Persia, that she has but lent them these blessings until she decides to deal differently with them.’ And this now happened in the time of Perseus. Surely Demetrius, as if by the mouth of some god, uttered these prophetic words. And I, as I wrote and reflected on the time when the Macedonian monarchy perished, did not think it right to pass over the event without comment, as it was one I witnessed with my own eyes; but I considered it was for me also to say something befitting such an occasion, and recall the words of Demetrius. This utterance of his seems to me to have been more divine than that of a mere man. For nearly a hundred and fifty years ago he uttered the truth about what was to happen afterwards.”

What would a British reader of 1897 have thought of this?

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Cultural diversity in universal states

October 20 2012

Owing to the tendency of the parochial states of a broken-down civilization in its Time of Troubles to sharpen their weapons in fratricidal conflicts with one another and to take advantage of this dearly bought increase in their military proficiency to conquer neighbouring societies with their left hands while continuing to fight one another with their right hands, most universal states have embraced not only a fringe of conquered barbarians but substantial slices of the domain of one or more alien civilizations as well. Some universal states, again, have been founded by alien empire-builders, and some have been the product of societies within whose bosoms there has already been some degree of cultural variety even on a reckoning which does not differentiate between march-men and the denizens of the interior of the same social world. […]

No other universal state known to History appears to have been as homogeneous in culture as Japan under the Tokugawa régime. In “the Middle Empire” of Egypt, in which a fringe of barbarians on the Nubian glacis of its Theban march was one element of variation from the cultural norm of the Egyptiac Society of the age, there was another and more positive feature of cultural diversity in the Empire’s culturally Sumeric provinces and client states in Palestine and Coele Syria. As for “the New Empire”, which was a deliberate revival of the original Egyptiac universal state, it accentuated the pattern of its prototype by completing the assimilation of the barbarians of Nubia and by embracing the domain of an abortive First Syriac Civilization in Syria and North-Western Mesopotamia; and this culturally tripartite structure – in which the cultural domain of the civilization through whose disintegration the universal state has been brought into existence is flanked by culturally alien territories annexed at the expense of both barbarians and neighbouring civilizations – appears to be the standard type.

For example, in the Mauryan Empire, which was the original Indic universal state, an Indic cultural core was flanked by an alien province in the Panjab, which had been at least partially Syriacized during a previous period of Achaemenian rule after having been partially barbarized by an antecedent Völkerwanderung of Eurasian Nomads, while in other quarters the Mauryan Empire’s Indic core was flanked by ex-barbarian provinces in Southern India and possibly farther afield in both Ceylon and Khotan as well. The Guptan Empire, in which the Mauryan was eventually reintegrated, possessed an ex-barbarian fringe, with an alien Hellenic tincture, in the satrapy that had been founded by Saka war-bands in Gujerat and the North-Western Deccan, and a Hellenized fringe, with a Kushan barbarian dilution, in the territories under its suzerainty in the Panjab. In a Han Empire which was the Sinic universal state, the Sinic World proper was flanked by barbarian annexes in what was eventually to become Southern China, as well as on the Eurasian Steppe, and by an alien province in the Tarim Basin, where the Indic, Syriac, and Hellenic cultures had already met and mingled before this cultural corridor and crucible was annexed to the Han Empire for the first time in the second century B.C. and for the second time in the first century of the Christian Era. In the Roman Empire, which was the Hellenic universal state, a culturally Hellenic core in Western Anatolia, Continental European Greece, Sicily, and Italy, with outlying enclaves in Cilicia, in Syria, at Alexandria, and at Marseilles, was combined with the domain of the submerged Hittite Civilization in Eastern Anatolia, with the homelands of the Syriac and Egyptiac civilizations in Syria and in the Lower Nile Valley, with the colonial [Carthaginian] domain of the Syriac Civilization in North-West Africa, and with ex-barbarian hinterlands in North-West Africa and in Western and Central Europe as far as the left bank of the Rhine and the right bank of the Danube. [Footnote: Leaving out of account the late-acquired and early-lost Transdanubian bridgehead in Dacia.]

There are other cases in which this standard cultural pattern has been enriched by some additional element.

In the Muscovite Tsardom, a Russian Orthodox Christian core was flanked by a vast ex-barbarian annex extending northwards to the Arctic Ocean and eastwards eventually to the Pacific, and by an Iranic Muslim annex consisting of the sedentary Muslim peoples of the Volga Basin, the Urals, and Western Siberia. This pattern was afterwards complicated by Peter the Great’s deliberate substitution of a Westernized for a traditional Orthodox Christian cultural framework for the Russian Orthodox Christian universal state, and by the subsequent annexation of additional alien territories – at the expense of the Islamic World on the Eurasian Steppe and in the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin, and at the expense of Western Christendom in the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, Poland, and Finland.

In the Achaemenian Empire, which was the original Syriac universal state, there was an antecedent cultural diversity, within the Syriac core itself, between the Syrian creators of the Syriac Civilization and their Iranian converts, and a geographical gap between Syria and Iran that was still occupied by the dwindling domain of the gradually disappearing Babylonic culture. The Achaemenian Empire also embraced the domain of the submerged Hittite culture in Eastern Anatolia, the best part of the domain of the Egyptiac Civilization, fringes torn from the Hellenic and Indic worlds, and pockets of partially reclaimed barbarian highlanders and Eurasian Nomads. Moreover, after its life had been prematurely cut short by Alexander the Great, its work was carried on by his political successors, and especially by the Seleucidae, whom it would be more illuminating to describe as alien Hellenic successors of Cyrus and Darius. In the Arab Caliphate, in which the Achaemenian Empire was eventually reintegrated, the Syriac core – in which the earlier diversity between Syrian creators and Iranian converts had been replaced by a cleavage, along approximately the same geographical line, between ex-subjects of the Roman and ex-subjects of the Sasanian Empire – was united politically, by Arab barbarian empire-builders, with barbarian annexes – in North-West Africa, in the fastnesses of Daylam and Tabaristan between the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian Sea, and on the fringes of the Eurasian Steppe adjoining the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin – and with fragments of alien civilizations: a slice of the new-born Hindu World in Sind; the potential domain of an abortive Far Eastern Christian Civilization in the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin; an Orthodox Christian diaspora in Syria and Egypt; and a fossil of the by then elsewhere extinct Babylonic Society at Harran.

In the Mongol Empire, which was a universal state imposed by alien empire-builders on the main body of the Far Eastern Society in China, the annexes to a Chinese core were unusually extensive – including, as they did, the whole of the Eurasian Nomad World, the whole of Russian Orthodox Christendom, and the ex-Sasanian portion of a Syriac World which by that time was in extremis. The Mongols themselves were barbarians with a tincture of Far Eastern Christian culture. In the Manchu empire-builders, who subsequently repeated the Mongols’ performance on a less gigantic yet still imposing scale, there was the same tincture in a more diluted form; and the Chinese universal state in its Manchu avatar once again embraced, in addition to its Chinese core, a number of alien annexes: a “reservoir” of barbarians in the still unfelled backwoods and still virgin steppes of Manchuria, the whole of the Tantric Mahayanian Buddhist World in Tibet, Mongolia, and Zungaria, and the easternmost continental outposts of the Islamic World in the Tarim Basin, the north-western Chinese provinces of Kansu and Shansi, and the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.

In the Ottoman Empire, which provided, or saddled, the main body of Orthodox Christendom with its universal state, the alien ʿOsmanli empire-builders united an Orthodox Christian core with a fringe of Western Christian territory in Hungary, with the whole of the Arabic Muslim World except Morocco, the Sudan, and South-Eastern Arabia, and with pockets of barbarians and semi-barbarians in Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, the Mani, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and on the Arabian Steppe. In the Mughal Empire, which was the Ottoman Empire’s counterpart in the Hindu World, the pattern was simpler, since, apart from the Iranic Muslim empire-builders and their co-religionists who had been deposited in the Hindu social environment by earlier waves of invasion from the Middle East and Central Asia [since the twelfth century], the Mughals’ only [sic] non-Hindu subjects were the Pathan barbarian highlanders on the north-western fringe of their dominions. When, however, the Mughal Rāj was replaced by a British Rāj, the pattern of the Hindu universal state became more complex; for the advent of a new band of alien empire-builders, which substituted a Western element for an Islamic at the political apex of the Hindu universal state, did not expel the Indian Muslims from the stage of Hindu history, but merely depressed their status to that of a numerically still formidable alien element in the Hindu internal proletariat, so that the Hindu universal state in its second phase combined elements drawn from two alien civilizations with a Pathan barbarian fringe and a Hindu core.

There had been other universal states in which, as in the Mughal Empire, the cultural pattern had been less complex than the standard type yet not so simple as that of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Empire of Sumer and Akkad, which was the Sumeric universal state, included no representatives of an alien civilization – unless Byblus and other Syrian coast-towns are to be counted as such in virtue of their tincture of Egyptiac culture. On the other hand, the Sumeric Civilization itself was represented in two varieties at least – a Sumero-Akkadian and an Elamite – and in no less than three if the domain of the Indus Culture should prove also to have been included in “the Empire of the Four Quarters of the World”. Moreover, the Babylonian Amorites, who eventually restored a polity that had been first constructed by the Sumerian Ur-Engur (alias Ur-Nammu) of Ur, were not merely marchmen but marchmen with a barbarian tinge. So, on a broader and a longer view, the cultural pattern of the Sumeric universal state proves to have been less homogeneous than might appear at first sight. “The thalassocracy of Minos”,  again, which was the Minoan universal state, probably included representatives of the continental Mycenaean variety of the Minoan culture as well as the creators of that culture in its Cretan homeland, even if it did not embrace any representatives of an alien civilization.

In the Central American World, two once distinct sister societies – the Yucatec Civilization and the Mexic – had not yet lost their distinctive characteristics, though they had already been brought together by force of Toltec arms, when the task, and prize, of establishing a Central American universal state was snatched, at the eleventh hour, out of the hands of barbarian Aztec empire-builders by Spanish representatives of an utterly alien Western Christendom. In the Andean World the Empire of the Incas, which was the Andean universal state, already included representatives of the Kara variety of the Andean culture […] before the indigenous Incan empire-builders were suddenly and violently replaced by Spanish conquistadores from Western Christendom who turned the Andean World upside-down, with a vigour reminiscent of Alexander the Great’s, by proceeding to convert the indigenous population to Christianity and to variegate the social map by studding it with immigrant Spanish landlords and self-governing municipalities.

The Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, which served as a carapace for Western Christendom against the assaults of the ʿOsmanlis, and which, seen from the south-east, wore the deceptive appearance of being a full-blown Western universal state, set itself, like the Tokugawa Shogunate, to achieve domestic cultural uniformity, but lacked both the ruthlessness and the insularity which, between them, enabled the Japanese isolationists for a time to put their policy into effect. In pursuing its aim of being totally Catholic, the Hapsburg Power did succeed, more or less, in extirpating Protestantism within its frontiers; but the very success of its stand, and eventual counter-attack, against the Ottoman embodiment of an Orthodox Christian universal state broke up the Danubian Monarchy’s hardly attained Catholic homogeneity by transferring to Hapsburg from Ottoman rule a stiff-necked minority of Hungarian Protestants and a host of Orthodox Christians of divers nationalities, most of whom proved unwilling to accept the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome, even when the yoke was proffered in the easy form of Uniatism [union with Rome and retention of local rites], while, among those who did accept this relatively light burden, the rank and file remained nearer in heart and mind to their dissident Orthodox ex-co-religionists than they ever came to be to their fellow Catholics who were of the Latin Rite.

The [post-Assyrian] Neo-Babylonian Empire [or Chaldean Empire], which was the Babylonic universal state, similarly forfeited its cultural purity – and thereby worked unwittingly for the eventual extinction of the Babylonic Civilization itself – when Nebuchadnezzar conquered and annexed the homeland of the Syriac Civilization west of the Euphrates; and the impress of the indigenous Babylonic culture became progressively fainter as the domain which Nebuchadnezzar had bequeathed to a short line of native successors was incorporated first into the barbaro-Syriac Empire of the Achaemenids and then into the Hellenic Empire of the Seleucids.

Our survey has shown that, in the cultural composition of universal states, a high degree of diversity is the rule; and, in the light of this fact, it is evident that one effect of the “conductivity” of universal states is to carry farther, by less violent and less brutal means, that process of cultural pammixia that is started, in the antecedent Times of Troubles, by the atrocities that these bring in their train. The refugees, exiles, deportees, transported slaves, and other déracinés of the more cruel preceding age are followed up, under the milder régime of a universal state, by merchants, by professional soldiers, and by philosophic and religious missionaries and pilgrims who make their transit with less tribulation in a more genial social climate.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Roman anarchies

October 11 2012

… or the calamity of the bees

[…] the recurrent “Time of Troubles” through which the Hellenic World passed between the death of Marcus in A.D. 180 and the accession of Diocletian in A.D. 284. [Footnote: The cause of this terrible relapse into anarchy was analysed long beforehand, with a prophetic insight, by the Stoic sage and Roman statesman Seneca (vivebat circa 5 B.C.-A.D. 65) in a passage of his De Clementia (Book I, chap. 4, §§ 1-2) in which the author gives his view of the social function of a prince.

“He is the bond that holds the Commonwealth together; he is the breath of life that is breathed by subjects, in their thousands, who in themselves would be nothing but a burden and a prey if they were left to their own devices through the removal of a presence which is the soul of the Empire.

Their king is safe? One mind informs them all;
Lost? They break troth straightway.

“If this calamity [which Virgil (Georgics, IV, ll. 212-13) imagines as overtaking the bees] [bracket in original] were to overtake us, it would be the destruction of the Pax Romana and the ruin of a great people. This people will be safe from that particular danger for just so long as it has the sense to put up with the curb; but, if ever it snaps the reins – or refuses to allow itself to be bridled again if the bridle has been accidentally shaken off – then the texture of this mighty empire will be rent, and its present unity will fly apart into a hundred shreds. Rome will cease to bear rule at the moment at which she ceases to render obedience.”

A foretaste of the fulfilment of this prophecy that had been made in a treatise addressed to the Emperor Nero was inflicted upon the Hellenic World in A.D. 69 as an immediate consequence of Nero’s tyranny; but this touch of calamity acted as a stimulus. “The Year of the Four Emperors” was followed by the principate of Vespasian; and, when the Neronian reign of terror was reinaugurated by the son of an emperor who had earned the title of “Saviour and Benefactor of All Men”, this tyranny of Domitian in its turn was followed by the philanthropic régime of a series of philosopher-emperors who succeeded one another without a break from Nerva to Marcus. It was only after the death of Marcus that the new “Time of Troubles” set in; and even then the tyranny of Commodus was followed by the principate of Septimius Severus, who repeated Vespasian’s work – albeit with a rougher hand. It was not till after the death of Alexander Severus that the storm broke with an uncontrollable and shattering violence.]

Translations of Seneca and Virgil presumably by Toynbee.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

Decline of the Senate

October 8 2012

The Senate’s loss of control over the reins of government de facto is to be dated neither from the victory of Augustus over Antony at Actium in 31 B.C. nor from the formation of the Second Triumvirate in 43 B.C. nor from the formation of the First Triumvirate in 60 B.C., but rather from the civil war of 90-81 B.C. The Sullan restoration was already an archaistic tour de force and it was the tragedy of the Roman constitutionalists of the generation of Cicero and Cato Minor that they had been born into an age in which the dictatorship was overdue and in which the surviving simulacrum of Senatorial government was a delusive anachronism.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Caligula: 1400 Days of Terror

October 4 2012

Adrian Murdoch and others, History Channel, showing in US Tuesday, October 9, 21.00 New York time.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

In the temple of Jupiter

September 16 2012

“The barefooted fryars … singing Vespers in the Temple of Jupiter” […]. [Footnote: The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon, edited by Murray, J. (London 1896, Murray), p. 302 […].]

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

A crowned ghost

September 16 2012

“If a man consider the originall of this great Ecclesiasticall Dominion, he will easily perceive that the Papacy is no other than the Ghost of the deceased Romane Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof; for so did the Papacy start up on a Sudden out of the Ruines of that Heathen Power.” [Footnote: Hobbes, Th.: Leviathan, Part IV, chap. 47.]

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Plus ultra!

September 7 2012

In A.D. 1952 […] the feat that had to be performed by Western navigators on the face of the waters of History was to pilot their vessel, without disaster, through perilous straits in the hope of making their way into more open waters beyond; and in this post-Christian Odyssey there was more than one passage to be negotiated and more than one kind of ordeal to be faced.

To paraphrase and anticipate, sailing between Scylla and Charybdis: abjuring war without sinking into consumerism.

Sailing between the Pillars of Hercules: negotiating a spiritual passage between a Christian heresy, Communism, on one shore and a backward-looking Christian orthodoxy on the other.

In terms of our Mediterranean maritime simile, we may compare the social and spiritual enterprise to which these Western adventurers were committed in the twentieth century of the Christian Era with the navigational task confronting Hellenic mariners in the sixth century B.C. who had bidden farewell to their Ionian homeland and had set sail westward rather than submit to the alien dominion of un-Hellenic-minded Achaemenidae. Following in Odysseus’ wake, these Phocaean seafarers would have first to negotiate the straits between Sicily and Italy without approaching either an Italian shore where they would be pounced upon by the monster Scylla or a Sicilian shore where they would be engulfed by the whirlpool Charybdis; but, if, by managing to steer their course along the narrow fairway through this first danger-zone, they should succeed in making the friendly port of Marseilles, they would not there find themselves at rest in the haven where they would be; [footnote: Ps. cvii. 30.] for their bold and skilful negotiation of the Straits of Messina would merely have carried them from the inner basin into the outer basin of the Mediterranean, without having liberated them from the imprisoning shores of their landlocked native sea.

I’m not sure why the open waters of the Atlantic would have been a haven for them. Nor did the Persians reach the outer basin. But the speculation is half-fanciful. Rather than submit to Persian rule, the Phocaeans, or some of them, had abandoned Ionia. Where did they sail to, in fact? Some, perhaps, to Chios, some to Phocaean colonies on Corsica and elsewhere. Massalia or Massilia, Marseille (Marseilles, the English sometimes call it), was an existing Phocaean colony: it was an independent Greek city from 600 BC until Caesar conquered it in 49 BC. Some became the founders of Elea, or Velia, in Campania. Some eventually returned to Phocaea.

What were the actual political dangers of Scylla and Charybdis? The straits were controlled by Greeks (Messenians, at least on the Calabrian side), not Carthaginians.

If they were to reach the boundless waters of a globe-encompassing Ocean, these voyagers must put to sea again from the sheltering harbour of their mother country’s daughter city in order to make for the Straits of Gibraltar between the Pillars of Hercules, where this pair of menacing mountains, towering above the African and the European shore and threatening, from either flank, to fall upon any ship audacious enough to run the gauntlet without their leave, were visible embodiments of Imperial Carthage’s decree that no Hellenic vessel was ever to sail on through this golden gate leading out from the landlocked waters into the main.

Since Carthage controlled both sides of the straits, such a decree would not be surprising, but what source tells us that it was made? Were the Carthaginians in part protecting access to Madeira, the Canaries, Cape Verde, the Azores? Some of these islands must have lain behind the tradition of the Hesperides, which Hercules had visited.

A Phoenician fleet had circumnavigated Africa by about 600 BC in the other direction. Herodotus describes how the Pharaoh Necho II sent out an expedition manned by Phoenician sailors. They sailed out of the Red Sea, rounded the Cape, and headed north to the Mediterranean. They paused on the African coast in two successive years to sow and harvest grain, and reached Egypt in the course of the third year.

A Carthaginian, Hanno, probably early in the 5th century BC, sailed to the Bight of Bonny, probably as far as Sherbro Island off Sierra Leone or Cape Palmas off Liberia. An account of his periplus was engraved in Punic on a bronze tablet set up in the temple of Baal at Carthage. It was translated into Greek. The translation survives, and is the only piece of Carthaginian literature we have. His account was used by Ptolemy and remained the standard guide for seafarers until the Portuguese explorations of the 15th century.

We have fragmentary evidence that a certain Euthymenes of Massalia sailed down the west coast of Africa as far as a river which was infested with crocodiles and whose waters were driven back by strong sea breezes. He thought that this river was the Nile. It may have been the Senegal River. We are not sure what century Euthymenes lived in, but there is a statue of him on the façade of the Marseille bourse.

Pytheas sailed from Massalia past the Pillars of Hercules to northern Europe, including Britain, c 325 BC. (The odd thing is that Queen Elizabeth II has never visited Greece.)

Polybius passed them after Carthage had been destroyed. Pliny the Elder tells us that he sailed down the west coast of Africa c 146 BC in ships lent to him by the destroyer, Scipio Aemilianus. He may have seen Mount Kakulima in Guinea.

So the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and presumably Persians were aware that Africa was surrounded by sea except where it was connected to Asia. Bartolomeu Dias sailed round the Cape in 1488. Vasco da Gama sailed round most of Africa in 1497-98 on his way to India.

And here woe betide the Hellenic mariner who allowed himself [if he wanted to reach his haven] to be intimidated by his adversary’s veto into following the Theban Pindar’s poor-spirited advice to his Agrigentine patron Thêrôn.

“And now Thêrôn’s achievements have carried him to the limit: they have brought him to the Pillars of Hercules on his long voyage from home; and what lies beyond this terminus is out of bounds (ἂβατον) for all men, wise or witless. I will not pursue this venture. I should deserve to lose my senses if I did this senseless thing!” [Footnote: Pindar: Odes in Honour of Victors in the Olympic Games, Ode iii, ll. 43-45.]

Theron had reached a metaphorical Pillars of Hercules by his unsurpassable excellence in the Olympic chariot race in 476 BC.

Ne plus ultra! These were the very words that a forbidding Carthaginian statesmanship had been intending to extort from defeatist Hellenic lips; and, so long as this self-imposed Hellenic psychological inhibition held, no Hellenic explorer would ever sail on to test the truth of a later poet’s intuition that the untried passage of the Ocean would prove to be the avenue to a New World. [Footnote: Seneca: Medea, ll. 364-79 […].] More than two thousand years were to pass before Columbus’s victorious defiance of the veto once imposed by a jealous Carthage was to be commemorated, in the device of “the dollar sign”, by the first sovereign on whose globe-encircling dominions the Sun could never set. On coins minted for Charles V out of American bullion, the antistrophic words Plus ultra! were triumphantly inscribed on a scroll displayed behind the minatory pair of pillars; and the moral was one which a twentieth-century Odysseus ought to take to heart if this series of episodes in the history of the art of navigation was an apt parable of the spiritual voyage on which his sails were set.

According to a Renaissance tradition, the pillars had been inscribed with the words Ne plus ultra as a warning to sailors and navigators to go no further. There is no version of the phrase in Greek.

Luigi Marliano, doctor and advisor to the young King of Spain, proposed Plus Oultre for his motto as an encouragement to ignore the ancient warnings, take risks. (The OED can find no example of the phrase Ne plus ultra from before 1637, but that means in English sources.)

Plus ultra is on the present Spanish coat of arms as an inscription on a banner linking two pillars. Its history between Charles V and now includes use thus on the Spanish dollar (current in the Spanish Empire 1497-19th century; the main currency within Spain was the real). The Spanish dollar was contemporary with the German Thaler and was the basis of the American dollar.

The wrapped pillars do not appear on US dollars, but may be the origin of the US dollar sign.

Future post: global histories of anna, cent, centime, crown, cruzado, cruzeiro, denarius, dinar, dollar, drachma, escudo, florin, franc, Groschen, guinea, gulden, Kreuzer, krone, lira, livre, Mark, penny, peseta, peso, pfennig, piastre, pound, real, rial, ruble, rupee, Schilling, shekel, shilling, solidus, sovereign, talent, Thaler, zloty.

In the interpretation of this parable in terms of the Western Civilization’s prospects, the finding of a passage between Scylla and Charybdis signified the negotiation of the Western World’s immediate problem of finding some way of avoiding self-destruction without falling into self-stultification. Mid-way through the twentieth century of the Christian Era the Western Society was in imminent danger of destroying itself by failing to stop making War now that a demonic drive had been put into War by the progress of a Western physical science; and it was in hardly less imminent danger of stultifying itself by seeking asylum from War and Class-Conflict in Circe’s pig-sty. If post-Christian Western souls did succeed in threading their way between these two immediate perils, they would owe their happy issue out of this affliction to an inspiration to take Religion as the mark on which they were once more to set their course; but an impulse to return to Religion would not in itself suffice to bring the Western pilgrims’ ships out of inland waters into open sea; for the call of Religion was being uttered in diverse tongues; [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 28.] and the questions to which the agnostic Western pioneer in search of a Christian oracle would have, at his own peril, to find an answer for himself, were:

“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? … Have all the gifts of healing? … Do all interpret?” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 29-30.]

In this spiritual ordeal the forbidding Pillars of Hercules were a pair of rival authoritarian and dogmatic faiths, both of which alike were offering to the storm-tossed voyager an everlasting Nirvāna in their stony bosoms and were threatening him with the eternal punishment that had been inflicted on the Flying Dutchman if he were to be so impious and so fool-hardy as to reject their offer and sail on past them out into the blue. From the one shore this ultimatum was being delivered to Western souls by a Christian heresy in which the stone of Communism had been substituted for the bread [footnote: Matt. vii. 9; Luke xi. 11.] of the Gospel, and from the other shore by a Christian Orthodoxy in which the body of Christ, [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 27; Eph. iv. 12.] who had “come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”, [footnote: John x. 10.] had been petrified into a pillar of salt [footnote: Gen. xix. 26.] by a backward-looking ecclesiastical tradition. To dare the passage between these two frowning Pillars of Hercules was a venture that might daunt even a mariner whose moral had been fortified by a previous success in making his way safely between Scylla and Charybdis. But, if, at this supremely critical point in his voyage, the pilgrim were to feel his heart failing, he might recover his courage and initiative by taking his oracle from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians:

“Covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 31.]

OED defines petrify as “turn (an organic body) into a stony concretion by gradually replacing its original substance with a calcareous, siliceous, or other mineral deposit”, which I suppose makes “petrify into a pillar of salt” not quite a mixed metaphor.

If a contrite humility was the first of the Christian virtues that were necessary for the Western pilgrim’s salvation, an indomitable endurance was the second. What was required of him at this hour was to hold on his course and to trust in God’s grace; and, if he prayed God to grant him a pilot for the perilous passage, he would find the bodhisattva [in the Mahayana, an enlightened being who has voluntarily delayed his entry into Nirvana in order to help his suffering fellow-beings] psychopompus [conductor of souls through the underworld] whom he was seeking in a Francesco Bernardone of Assisi, who was the most god-like soul that had been born into the Western World so far. A disciple of Saint Francis who followed faithfully enough in the saint’s footsteps to participate in the saint’s gift of receiving Christ’s stigmata would know, with the knowledge that comes only through suffering, that his sacrifice had been accepted by the Lord. [Footnote: Gen. iv. 3-7.] Asperges me hyssopo et mundabor. [Footnote: Ps. l. 9, in the Vulgate Latin text, Ps. li. 7, in the English Authorized Version.]

Seville Town Hall (Ayuntamiento), reign of Charles V

A footnote after “minatory pair of pillars” advises us to

See Raymond, Wayte: The Silver Dollars of North and South America (New York 1939, Wayte Raymond, Inc.) for photographs of dollars coined for the Spanish Crown, over a series of reigns ranging from Charles V’s (regnabat A.D. 1516-56) to the break-up of the Spanish Empire of the Indies in the nineteenth century of the Christian Era, which display the pair of pillars with the motto Plus ultra. On 46 of the 67 specimens (not counting “necessity coins” [small mintings of little value]) of “pillar type” coins here reproduced, including the earliest in the series, Charles V’s coin from Santo Domingo (p. 18, No. 1), the two words are inscribed on a single scroll linking the pillars (and passing behind an heraldic shield inserted between the pillars on coins of this type minted for the Bourbons). On fifteen specimens, each of the two pillars is wreathed in a separate scroll of its own, with “Plus” inscribed on the left-hand scroll and “Ultra” on the right-hand scroll. On six specimens, including Philip II’s dollar minted in Peru (reproduced in Supplement, p. 3, No. A 1), the motto is inscribed behind or above the pillars without being mounted on a scroll.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

A dinner-party for Liutprand

September 5 2012

What the Lombards thought of the Romans before Rome was restored to glory by the Tuscan Lombard Hildebrand is revealed in the following passage from the works of Liutprand of Cremona, who was Hildebrand’s senior by about a hundred years. The passage occurs in the twelfth chapter of Liutprand’s report on his mission to Constantinople in A.D. 968 [as emissary of Berengar II]. He is describing the high words that passed between himself and the East Roman Emperor Nicephorus Phocas during a dinner-party that the Emperor was giving in his honour.

“When I was on the point”, writes Liutprand, “of answering him back … he would not let me, but added, by way of insulting me: ‘You are not Romans, but Lombards!’ He wanted to say more, and signed to me with his hand to keep quiet, but I lost my temper and burst out. ‘That fratricide Romulus,’ I said, ‘after whom the Romans are named, was a son of a whore – born, I mean, in adultery – as every schoolboy knows. What he did was to set up an alsatia in which debtors, fugitive slaves, murderers, and other criminals whose lives were forfeit received asylum until their numbers mounted up to a mob of undesirables whom their host dubbed Romans. This is the noble origin of the people whom you style the Lords of the World (kosmocratores, id est imperatores). And these are also the people whom we – and by “us” I mean us Lombards, Saxons, Franks, Lorrainers, Bavarians, Swabians, and Burgundians – despise so utterly that, when we lose our temper with our enemies and want to insult them, we pronounce the single word “Roman!” – conveying, in the use of this pregnant appellation, all the baseness and cowardice and avarice and effeminacy and mendacity of which human nature is capable.’”

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)


July 26 2012

The Christian Church is indebted for its very name to the technical term employed, in the city-state of Athens, to denote the general assembly of the citizen-body when it was meeting to transact political, as distinct from judicial, business; but, in thus borrowing the word ecclesia (ἐκκλησία), the Church gave it a dual meaning which was no part of the original Attic usage but was the reflection of a new political order, in which Athens and all other surviving city-states of a disintegrating Hellenic World had been incorporated into the Roman Empire without losing their identities as units of local government and life on the municipal level. In Christian usage, ecclesia came to mean both a local Christian community [footnote: When the “outdoor” Hellenic Civilization gave place to the “indoor” Orthodox and Western Christian civilizations, the word ecclesia, in its local meaning, came to be applied, not only to the local Christian community, but to the parochial building in which it assembled for congregational worship.] and the church universal.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954


July 25 2012

The Christian Church’s sacred book – taken over from the Jews and eventually augmented by the addition of an exclusively Christian “New Testament” to supplement and retrospectively reinterpret “the Old Testament” of Jewish origin – was presented by the Church as its credentials in the belief that this was the authentic Word of God Himself. In so far as the Bible was not referred to as “the Books” (τα βιβλία) [ta biblia] par excellence, it was designated by a term long since current in the vocabulary of the Roman inland revenue. In the fiscal terminology of a post-Hannibalic Roman Commonwealth the word scriptura signified the tax payable for the right to graze cattle on the public lands in the devastated areas in the South of Italy, because an entry in the official register, certifying that a would-be grazier had duly paid his tax, was the warrant that authorized him to make use of the public pasturelands. The Greek equivalent of the Latin scriptura was (γραφή) [graphē], and in a latter-day Kingdom of Greece at the time of writing there was a district in the Southern Pindus, between the plains of Thessaly and the west coast, which was still known as the Agrapha [unwritten] because the agents of an Ottoman inland revenue – and an East Roman inland revenue in an earlier age – had never succeeded even in inscribing in their registers, not to speak of actually collecting, the taxes due from the wild highlanders in this mountain fastness.

The Pindus range is in northwestern Greece and southern Albania.

Spring in Agrafa

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954