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By TheophileEscargot (Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 03:02:24 AM EST) Reading, Listening, MLP (all tags)
Listening: "Rome and the Barbarians". Coming soon? Web.

What I'm Listening To
Latest TTC course was Rome and the Barbarians by Kenneth W. Harl. Fairly interesting, though the basic story of Rome is pretty familiar.

He points out that the culture of the Gauls/Celts was more advanced than you might think from Roman sources: the La Tène culture had sophisticated metalwork and advanced wheel technology. Apparently most of the Latin words related to carts, wheels, chariots, axles and so on turn out to be Celtic loan words; suggesting that the Romans acquired this from their barbaric neighbours. In some ways I think the Roman attitude to the Gauls might be comparable to asking an 18th century Englishman about the Scots: he'd tell you they were a fierce and backward people mainly characterized by strange lower-body garments; even though the Scottish Enlightenment was revolutionizing science, philosophy and economics at the time.

Harl doesn't just concentrate on the Gauls/Celts: he has a suitably loose definition of barbarian that applies to practically everyone except the Romans and the Hellenes; covering the Goths, the Persians, the Parthians, the Dacians the Huns, the Arabs, the Numidians in sometimes confusing detail.

Jugurtha the Numidian seems to have had some bad luck by this account: Roman factional politics meant that they wanted a nice little war, and seized on a relatively minor excuse.

Also feel a bit sorry for the Emperor Valerian. The only Roman emperor to be captured by an enemy (the Sassanid Persians), he was reported to have spent the rest of his life acting as a human footstool for Shapur I, who would step on his grovelling body whenever he needed to get on his horse. Demotions are always awkward.

Interesting, Harl doesn't quite stick to the modern line that the late Western Roman empire just quietly dissolved into the early medieval kingdoms. (As opposed to the earlier annihilation by barbarian invaders line). He does point out that there was a great deal of cultural blending going on. Barbarians outside the borders were becoming somewhat Romanized; acquiring Roman goods, and adopting in particular more sophisticated methods of warfare. So too, the Roman empire was becoming more barbarianized, with Celtic names appearing more in the records, and some barbarian customs appearing. Even that most comical barbarian custom of the wearing of the trousers had become common in the late Roman empire.

However, conditions and literacy did deteriorate after Roman influence waned. He points out that while there had been a long-standing tradition of using barbarian allies militarily, offering citizenship and patron/client relationships as rewards, this had changed and accelerated after the third century crisis. Formerly, barbarian settlers were broken up and distributed around: now they were allowed to settle en masse. Similarly, entire tribes were incorporated into single units rather than spread around the armies, allowing them to retain a tribal cohesion.

Harl points out that in the late Roman army, the sophisticated training, discipline and equipment of the old legions seems to have been lost. Simpler conical helmets replaced the complex helmet, articulated armour disappeared, and the spear replaced the gladius sword; and the troops became prone to panic. On several occasions the sources casually remark than Roman armies were mistaken for invading barbarians. With "federate" barbarian tribes acting as Roman armies, you couldn't really tell the difference between a Roman army and a barbarian horde anymore.

However, with revenues and populations declining, Harl seems to regard the process as somewhat inevitable, and Justinian and Belisarius' attempts to revive the Roman empire as doomed.

Overall, an interesting and informative course.

Coming soon
Next TTC course is Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon.

Also since Breaker did his manifesto I've been vaguely thinking of doing my own policy document. I think mine might have to be enforced by a benevolent dictator though.

Not coming soon
The book pipeline seems to be looking a bit empty. I've still got a few Aubrey/Maturins and Rebuses sitting there, but I don't see any really new and exciting books coming up. Normally I have a few "available for pre-order"s in my Amazon basket, but it's looking a bit empty,

I've tried most of the more promising genre classics recommendations now. There don't seem to be any new Greg Egan, Iain M. Banks, Alastair Reynolds things coming soon. Alan Moore's ABC Universe is about over. Charles Stross has got a bit crap and Saturn's Childen looks pretty awful. I've exhausted K.J. Parker and Joe Abercrombie until they write something else. Can't see much on the non-fiction side either. Woe is me. Maybe I should go back and do some re-reading since I've got all these books hanging around.

Michael Portillo on Brown's foreign policy silence.

Planet game which I'm embarrasingly bad at.

Olymptic elitism Olymptic elitism:

Look beyond the propaganda and you will find that 58 per cent of Great Britain's gold-medal winners at Athens in 2004 went to independent schools. You will also find that in the past three Olympics 45 per cent of medal winners went to the non-state sector. Given that only 7 per cent of children attend independent schools, and assuming that sporting talent is spread evenly, this is a striking demonstration of how Olympic success is driven by wealth as well as by ability. Either way, the 93 per cent who attend state schools are chronically under-represented.
Death Star over San Francisco video.

Tech: Automatic face beautifier.

Scary fashion trend: anime eyes.

< "Before the Beginnings of Time... (July 1991)" | A diary to remember >
Part of the furniture | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)
Barbarians by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #1 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 03:46:14 AM EST

Terry Jones did a TV series and accompanying book which said much the same about the Celts.

Anyone who didn't speak Greek was a barbarian by lm (4.00 / 1) #2 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 03:52:27 AM EST
The words comes from those strange sounds non-Greek speakers would make when they tried to talk, `bar bar bar bar.' I suppose this may have weakened a bit after Rome conquered most of the various Greek city states so that the Latin rulers would be considered to be real men and not uncivilized simply because they didn't speak Greek.

It's refreshing to hear of someone using something close to the original definition.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
Apparently when Romans used the term by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #3 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 04:02:30 AM EST
They basically just meant "foreigner": it didn't really have a negative connotation.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Although there is always by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #11 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 01:57:39 PM EST
the "they who are to be conquered" connotation.


[ Parent ]
In general, the Romans were less xenophobic by lm (4.00 / 1) #12 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 02:04:26 PM EST
Perhaps, in part, because according to the Roman national myth, they were once strangers, being the descendants of Troy, who migrated to a strange land. Whatever the cause, Roman citizenship was viewed as a political designation that could be gotten by birth, by money, or through merit. While a few folks were made honorary Greeks, they were rather exceptional. You had to be born a Hellene to be a Hellene, even if you spoke Greek.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
I was going too do a list of recommended books by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #4 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 04:26:24 AM EST
But I'll do a diary instead at some point.

I'll look forward to the manifesto

It's political correctness gone mad!

I think the later Empire by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #5 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 06:55:01 AM EST
Had the problem of the rise of Sassanid dynasty in Persia on the eastern frontier who were the most serious ideological and military threat that they faced since the Carthaginians. The crisis of the third century was basically caused by this.

As the economic gravity of the Empire was increasingly moving towards the East, thev tendency was to defend the east and let the west cope for itself. The barbarianisation of the army was basically a Western phenemonium, the Eastern army evolved but remained a recognisibly professional force.

Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #6 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 07:07:58 AM EST
I think it's partly the old question of where you draw the dividing line between the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire.

But even if you look at the army of Belisarius under Justinian, they relied on the cataphract heavy cavalry: the same units as had been used by the Eastern "barbarians" for a while.

Basically his thesis is that the barbarian armies had become professionalized due to Rome; both from the necessity to stand up to Rome, and their employment by Rome. For centuries Rome had been hiring nomads to patrol the East for them.

He reckons that one of the reasons the early Islamic Arabs were militarily successful is that the Arabs had been employed in Roman armies and knew what they were doing.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Also, it's pet theory time! by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #7 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 07:13:49 AM EST
The "Great Battles of the Ancient World" course pointed out that nobody really knows how the Roman Legions managed to fight with just short swords instead of spears, or how their system of line relief worked.

Also, when they tried to revive those kinds of tactics in the Renaissance, they couldn't figire out how to make them work either.

So maybe sometime in the Third Century Crisis, they just forgot the great secret of how to fight as a classical Roman Legion, and never recovered it.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Didn't the legions also have by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #9 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 08:06:27 AM EST
Pilums ie: javelins. I thought they hurled them into massed ranks of infantry and broke them up. Also didn't they use their massed shields as a sort of battering rams.

Wikipedia has a good article on Roman legionary tactics.

[ Parent ]
Yes by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #10 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 08:19:21 AM EST
Practically every military historian has a confident explanation of Roman legionary tactics.

The problem is they tend to say very different things about the specifics. Some say they advanced in close formation, some say they were ten feet apart. Some say the line relief operated constantly, so a phalanx would constantly advance a retreating legion, but be constantly faced with fresh troops. Others say the line relief would only have operated after a while, when one group would be replaced by another.

Another thing that puzzles me. The Macedonian Phalanx the early Republic faced had evolved from a long period of competition. It could operate in close coordination with cavalry, and it relied on professional soldiers: amateurs couldn't hack it. Yet the early Roman Republic relied on citizen-farmers doing temporary military service. How come those amateur sodbusters managed to frequently kick the arses of the professionals?

As I said, this is just a pet theory not something that has academic support. But it seems to me there must be some crucial detail that's just missing from the record.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Olympics by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #8 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 07:25:33 AM EST
My wife and I were noticing a trend where athletes from small countries live and train in the US.  In some cases, it appears they've never lived in the country they represent.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
Scolarships. by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 1) #13 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 02:53:59 PM EST
US Universities go all around the world looking for good sports people to offer them scholarships.

I believe it is highly lucrative for the Universities to have these kind of people enrolled with them (there are big bucks to be made in US University sports).

I think you are exaggerating your claim about US based people not knowing the countries they are representing.

In the case of Mexico scores of sports people (swimmers, tennis players, a few track athletes) go to study to the US in the back of a scholarship. It is very rare that they have never been to Mexico and most of them are 100% Mexican.

[ Parent ]
Well by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #14 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 04:10:08 PM EST
I'm thinking of Becky Hammon in particular but there's also Milorad Čavić who while at least of Serbian citizenship, was born in the US and as far as I can tell, has always lived here.

But I'm more thinking just that it is sad that so many are forced to essentially leave their countries to be competitive.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Olympic swimmers by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #15 Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 04:15:48 PM EST
I was thinking about it a bit more, and I suspect the reason that the US does so well in swimming is that most non-inner city high schools have large swimming pools.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #17 Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 12:54:42 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by yicky yacky

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #18 Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 12:59:02 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by yicky yacky

[ Parent ]
I meant more by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #20 Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 05:39:57 AM EST
The decades of swimming history.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by yicky yacky (4.00 / 2) #16 Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 12:43:33 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by yicky yacky

Your manifesto by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #19 Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 04:59:23 AM EST
I look forward to reading it.

Not being a partisan sort of chap, feel free to nick any policy I stated, or nick the basics and modify it.  That is of course, if you can find one you like...

I will be genuinely interested in reading it.

Part of the furniture | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)