Travels Through Time 1549: The City at the Hub of the World. So which city do you reckon? London? Instanbul? Venice? Paris? Amsterdam? Nup- it’s little old Antwerp, which today is part of Belgium but in 1549 was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Even though it was ruled from Spain by Charles V, the city was fairly independent (for the time) and it’s not surprising that it was a haven for Protestants and Jews. An important trading hub with access to the North Sea and the river system throughout Europe, it became a market for everything, particularly art, which it turned into a commercial ‘product’. Historian Michael Pye, who has recently published Antwerp: The Glory Years has chosen 1549 as his year, with Charles V coming for a ceremonial visit; the King of Sweden sending Jacob Binck to Antwerp to check on the progress of a tomb he had commissioned and Italian merchant and conman Simone Turchi’s luck beginning to run out.
The History of Rome Podcast Episode 56: The King is Dead: Long Live the King. When he died, Augustus is said to have said that he found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble. Not only did he do that. He established a bureaucracy, and set Tiberius up well to take over from him when he died. Near the end of his life, he visited his grandson Agrippa Postumus to check him out, adopted him so as to carry on the bloodline, but didn’t intend him to actually become Emperor because he was brutal and unsuitable. In the end Agrippa Postumus died anyway (was it Livia again? or Tiberius? or on the orders of Augustus himself?) just after Augustus himself died on August 17, 14 A.D. Although Mike Duncan is not completely won over by Augustus, he claims that he was one of the most important men in Western Civilisation. Episode 57: Germanicaus goes back to look at Germanicaus, Tiberius’ nephew and adopted son. He was married to Agrippina (Augustus’ granddaughter) and had several children, the youngest of whom, Gaius, he dressed up as a legion soldier, leading to his name ‘little boots’ (i.e. Caligula). Tiberius was becoming increasingly jealous of him, particularly when, after being sent to the Rhine, Germanicaus avenged to some extent the rout at Teutoberg. So what do you do with a rival? Have him die in suspicious circumstances of course, having clashed with Piso, the governor of Syria. Episode 58: Partner of My Labours sees Praetorian Prefect Lucius Sejanus take increasing power after Tiberius’ son Drusus dies. Drusus was Tiberius’ son and after Germanicaus died, he seemed to be Tiberius’ heir. But then he died too, apparently of natural causes, although some suspect Sejanus, to whom Tiberius had turned over the practical running of the empire. Mike Duncan backtracks a little here, to explain the praetorian guard, and how they came to have so much power. Sejanus seduced Drusus’ wife Livilla, and it is said that she introduced the poison that killed Drusus. Perhaps. But in the end, Tiberius turned against him, brought him to the Senate, and had him tried and executed and thrown down the Gemonian Stairs. Episode 59 To the Tiber with Tiberius sees Tiberius becoming even more tyrannical and paranoid, using treason trials to expunge all of Sejanus’ supporters. Mike Duncan mentions at the start of this episode just how bloody the politics of this time had become. When Tiberius finally died, people rejoiced, saying that surely things couldn’t get worse. Wrong. Caligula (‘Little Boots’) was really Gaius, Germanicus’ third son. Tiberius had adopted him, but his mother Agrippina and his older brothers were exiled, killed, or starved to death. When Tiberius died, Caligula was only 24 and he hadn’t been trained for the position at all. For the first few months, he seemed that he was going to be alright as an emperor, but then he got sick and when he recovered, the madness started.
History Extra Publicizing his new book The Story of the Country House: A History of Places and People, Clive Aslet talks about the history of the country house up to the current day. Although the episode is called From Roman villas to Downton Abbey, there weren’t many Roman villas in it, because he started his story in medieval times. At first, the value was not in the house, but in the land that surrounded it, and very wealthy landowners would progress from house to house, taking everything with them. Many houses were ruined during the English Civil War, and rebuilt later. I thought he would have made more of the Georgian/Victorian era and the renovations that reflected new wealth, and he acknowledged but also excused the influx of money through slavery. The low point for the country house came in the 1970s, after two world wars (the first of which removed many potential heirs from their heritage), the decline in agricultural wealth, and the oil shock that made heating the houses impossible. However, with Downton Abbey there has been a resurgence, as people have moved back into country houses as their principal residence, especially in COVID times. I wish that the quality was better in this podcast- the interviewer sounds like he’s on another planet. Here are his three favorite country houses. The big image is Chatsworth, which I have seen in nearly every Jane Austin film, Burton Agnes in Yorkshire which dates from the 1600s and Broughton Castle which I’ve seen in movies too.
Because of Anita During the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanagh, many people remembered the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas. This four-part series revisits the testimony- which so many of us (myself included) think of being the trial of Anita Hill, instead of Clarence Thomas. In Episode 1, The Testimony, I was disturbed to hear Joe Biden overseeing the pile-on of questions, many of which were really offensive. There were other women prepared to testify, but the senators just ran down the clock and their testimony was just attached as written statements.
Rear Vision (ABC) Who/What is this Tigray Liberation Front that I keep hearing about? Rear Vision’s recent episode on Ethiopia refers back to an earlier podcast from August 2018 Peace: Ethiopia and Eritrea when the new elected Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reached out to his counterpart in Eritrea and began a peace process that people hoped would bring the 20 year civil war to a close. This newer episode Hopes dashed- Ethiopia ripped by ethnic violence from July 2021 returns to the same commentators three years later to see how it all worked out. Not well. Abiy Ahmed used the COVID crisis to postpone elections indefinitely, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which had been instrumental in overthrowing the military junta in 1991 but sidelined when Abiy Ahmed took power, announced that it was holding its own elections in the Tigray region. The Ethiopian government, with its army, said that this was illegal and hostilities broke out in November 2020 when the rebel TPLF attached an army base. And so it goes….
I´ve been watching all those streams of Haitian refugees streaming towards the US-Mexico border. I read about a man who had been forcibly returned to Haiti after spending about four years in Chile before embarking for the US. “Why would anyone want to live here?” he asked, and he’s right. I listened to Mike Duncan’s series about the Haitian Revolution, but knew nothing of Haitian history from the early 19th century to the present day. Haiti- the background to an assassination highlights just how duplicitous the US has been in interfering in Haiti’s politics.
Some Unitarian listening. Those of you who know me know that I attend a Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship here in Melbourne. But I enjoy listening in to services from other UU groups as well. This week I listened to an address by Jennie Dyster from Adelaide Unitarian Church called Now I’m a Believer which provides some of the context behind biblical verses used as exemplars of ‘love’ – Corinthians 13 and the Book of Ruth. She then goes on to pay tribute to Bishop John Shelby Spong, who died recently, who stressed the importance of ‘context’ when using inspirational quotes and readings.
Blindspot: The Road to 9/11 In Episode 3: The Bomb, the World Trade Centre suffers its first, bungled bombing in the basement (I’d forgotten all about it- in fact, did I even know?) NYPD Detective Louis Napoli and FBI Special Agent John Anticev manage to get their mole Emad Salem to infiltrate the Blind Sheik’s terror cell again, and now he becomes the personal assistant of Omar Abdel-Rahman (a.k.a. the Blind Sheikh) himself. This series is based on the TV series of the same name.