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.
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.
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.
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