The Best of Scribblers - an appreciation of Edward Gibbon and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
In 2010 Alan Prendergast wrote a long article about the life of novelist John Williams and how he was beginning, at long last, to find a sizable audience. How true that turned out to be, as Williams' 1965 novel Stoner subsequently became a bestseller all over Europe, first in French translation, but later elsewhere in Europe, and it has begun to get glowing notices in his native US. Williams is not around to enjoy the success, as he passed away in 1994. Now another of his novels, Augustus, has also begun its rise from obscurity. The New York Review of Books republished it last year on the occasion of the 2000th anniversary of the first Roman Emperor's death. On the NYRB website you can read Daniel Mendelsohn's fine introduction to the book.
In the Middle Ages, the nation that was to give the world the full English widely skipped breakfast. Yet, by 1600, a culinary non-entity had become a key part of our daily routine. Why the change?Ian Mortimer investigates "How the Tudors (re)Invented Breakfast" for History Extra. See also: Breakfast, lunch and dinner: Have we always eaten them? (BBC, 2012); and Meals of the Day in the early and classical Roman empire, which counters the statement about Romans eating only one meal a day. Extra credit: Merienda - South American-style Afternoon Tea.
What were things like in the bars and shops of the ancient Romans?
During the reign of Constantine the Great, the Roman senator and poet Publilius Optatianus Porphyrius was sent into exile for crimes unknown. He succeeded in regaining favor and his good name by composing a series of poems in praise of the emperor which looked like nothing else. His poetry was an evolution of the Greek tradition of pattern poetry, but he took it a much more complex level, as Arrigo Lora Totino explains. In an illustrated article, John Stephan Edwards goes through the poetry of Porphyrius, showing the evolution of his craft.
The History of Byzantium is a podcast that picks up where The History of Rome left off, detailing happened to the eastern half of the Roman Empire after the last Western Emperor was dethroned. The podcaster, Robin Pierson, does a good job explaining the often, ahem, byzantine politics and thorny theology of Byzantium. So far there are five episodes, taking us from the chaotic years following the decline and fall of the West into the reign of Anastasius (491-518). [iTunes link]
Spanning one-ninth of the earth's circumference across three continents, the Roman Empire ruled a quarter of humanity through complex networks of political power, military domination and economic exchange. These extensive connections were sustained by premodern transportation and communication technologies that relied on energy generated by human and animal bodies, winds, and currents. Conventional maps that represent this world as it appears from space signally fail to capture the severe environmental constraints that governed the flows of people, goods and information. Cost, rather than distance, is the principal determinant of connectivity. For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.
This past July marked the 253rd birthday of Thomas Bowdler, English physician and source of the eponym bowdlerise (or bowdlerize), through his family-friendly editing of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (prev), which was written originally by English historian Edward Gibbon. Though Thomas' name is on the later editions of The Family Shakespeare, it was his sister, Henrietta Maria Bowdler (commonly called Harriet), who actually excised the texts and removed about 10% of the original text that which she felt "cannot with propriety be read aloud in family." Some sample comparisons of the edits can be seen here. With that, Henrietta (and Thomas) earned a place in the ranks of Shakespeare editors (prev-ish). [more inside]
Byzantine Blog is what it says on the tin, a blog about Byzantium. It is written by Tom and Kim Sawford, with the occasional guest post by Laura Diaz-Arnesto. The blog has been going for over a year and a half now, and so has an extensive backlog of posts on a wide variety of subjects, for example: Byzantine holy relics in Siena in Tuscany, Princess Theophano who married Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, photos of mosaics and other art, the horrific realities of prostitution, the islands of Thasos and Lemnos and a couple of posts on Byzantine medicine, mandrake and wolfsbane. Besides essays and photos the blog also links to various sites, articles, podcasts et cetera that dwell on Byzantine matters.
Nova Roma is an international organization dedicated to the study and restoration of ancient Roman culture. From its founding until it ceased to be the center of Imperial authority Rome laid the foundation for our modern Western civilization. Founded 2,750 years after the Eternal City itself, Nova Roma seeks to bring back those golden times, not through the sword and the legions, however, but through the spread of knowledge and through their own virtuous example.
Economic crisis, mounting national debt, excessive foreign commitments -- this is no way to run an empire. America needs serious strategic counseling. And fast. It has never been Rome, and to adopt its strategies no -- its ruthless expansion of empire, domination of foreign peoples, and bone-crushing brand of total war -- would only hasten America's decline. Better instead to look to the empire's eastern incarnation: Byzantium, which outlasted its Roman predecessor by eight centuries. It is the lessons of Byzantine grand strategy that America must rediscover today.
If you follow the 210+ reasons why the Roman Empire "fell", you might be interested in this 60-min interview with author Adrian Goldsworthy about his recent book How Rome Fell. The interview includes a number of fascinating discussions about the nature of writing popular history, his theory on why Rome "fell", and why analogies between modern countries and Rome's fate have it all wrong. Goldsworthy also did introductions for the Rome series which can be watched here/here. ( via New Books in History)
The Ancient World's Longest Underground Aqueduct. "Roman engineers chipped an aqueduct through more than 100 kilometers of stone to connect water to cities in the ancient province of Syria. The monumental effort took more than a century, says the German researcher who discovered it." How Did the Romans Accomplish Such a Feat? [Via]
Is history repeating itself? Note quite 2000 years ago, the Roman hegemony got its first black leader - a former senator whose father was African and mother was white. Septimius Severus inherited a failed military campaign in Iraq and an ailing economy. He first resolves the situation in Iraq, undertakes a number of new building projects, stamps out governmental corruption, raises taxes to pay for wage increases (and kicks British arse a few times). Ultimately though, it all might have only hastened the Empire's decline.
The Vinkhuijzen Collection of Military Costume Illustration has drawings of uniforms and regimental regalia from all over the world. Assembled by one of these great, eccentric collectors of the late 19th Century, Dr. H. J. Vinkhuijzen, a Dutch medical doctor who started out as an army physician and eventually rose to the position of official court physician to Prince Alexander of Netherlands. He pulled plates out of books, colored in black and white drawings and painted his own watercolor illustrations. His collection includes pictures of the soldiers of many different nations and eras, from military superpowers like the Roman Empire, France and Great Britain, to lesser known, but no less formidable forces, like Byzantium and Persia and even taking in such minnows as Luxembourg, Monaco and Montenegro. Due to Vinkhuijzen's unusual classification system it can be hard to find some of the more interesting images, such as pictures of Etruscan cavalry, Spanish military musicians and 1830's Belgian ambulance.
If the Tiber rises so high it floods the walls, or the Nile so low it doesn't flood the fields, if the earth opens, or the heavens don't, if there is famine, if there is plague, instantly the howl goes up, "The Christians to the lion!" What, all of them? To a single lion? So wrote Tertullian. In the huge intellectual project that was the foundation of the Christian Church he was the great wit, most powerful rhetor and finest writer. Starting out as a pagan delighting in adultery and gladiator combat he became a great champion of martyrdom, defender of Christianity against its malefactors and heretics. His most famous contribution to our culture is undoubtedly the doctrine of the trinity. Towards the end of his life he threw his lot with a small group of hardcore ascetics called Montanists and was denounced as a heretic. Ending his life among the defeated of ecclesiastical history he was forgotten for a millennium until rediscovered during the Renaissance. The Tertullian Project collects all his extant writing and information about his lost texts as well as biographical information, selected quotations and much more.
Physicist Howard Wiseman has a hobby, history. On his website he has three history subsites, filled with lots of information: 1) Ruin and Conquest of Britain 2) 18 Centuries of Roman Empire 3) Twenty Centuries of "British" "Empires". Especially informative are his many maps. As he says himself: "Drawing historical maps of all sorts has been a hobby of mine since my mid teens. Now I can do it digitally, and inflict it upon the world!"
The 25 largest empires. The influential British were first, of course. But the original Axis of Evil never beat the Mongols, and Canada holds more territory than Rome at its peak. Watch some amazing animations of the rise and fall of the Mughals in India. (or other examples). Only one official empire remains today, but speculation on new candidates abound.
Roman Emperors, there sure were a lot of them. This online encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on the autocratic rulers of Rome I have come across. It ranges from Augustus to Constantine Dragases, the last emperor in Constantinople. It doesn't include them all, but has most, including my two favorites, Basil II, the Bulgarslayer and Antonius Pius. You can also find the one least deserving of fame, the one with the silliest name and, of course, the completely batshit ones. Also on the site, maps, battles, coins and everybody's favorite subject, genealogy.
Boudicca (also known as Boadicea) was the queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe in eastern Britain in 60 AD. As recorded by Tacitus and Cassius Dio, she led a brutal revolt against the Romans and razed London and Southwark. There's a famous statue of her at Westminster Bridge, and Masterpiece Theatre has produced a new historical drama about her, Warrior Queen.
The Illustrated History of the Roman Empire claims to be the leading on-line resource for Roman history, with over 70mb of content. They have many short essays and lots of graphics and interactive maps. The UI could be better (especially for the maps), but it's a good time sink just the same.