The History of Rome Podcast. Episode 64- Smite my Womb sees Claudius dead and Nero moving smoothly into his position, aided mightily by the hand of his mother Agrippina. He was only 16 years old, had no experience whatsoever, and was really into the ‘entertainment industry’- something very much frowned upon by the patricians who had the time to sit around writing histories of the Roman Empire. He had his mother on one side, and his advisor Seneca (the Stoic philosopher) on the other. He decided to sideline his mother by sending her away, and when she seemed to be supporting his younger brother Brittanicus (son of Claudius and the adulteress Messalina) and later another cousin, she over-played her hand. Nero organized several unsuccessful attempts at matricide, and in the end sent an assassin to kill her, later claiming that it was a suicide. Her dying words were said to be ‘Smite my womb”. Thanks and goodbye, Mother. Episode 65- Burn it to the Ground turns to foreign policy between 58 and 63 AD, when both the Parthians and the tribes in Britain decided to take advantage of this newly-minted emperor and test him out. The Parthian conflict started over Armenia, while in Britain Boudica was fired up by the denial of her inheritance of the Icini tribal throne that had been left to her by her husband. She was flogged and her daughters raped by the Romans. She gathered huge numbers, and they engaged in a scorched-earth policy, burning down Londinium. Her troops massively outnumbered the Romans, but the Romans were always good at battle on an open field. The defeated Boudica drank poison and died. Episode 66 -666 I wonder if he planned for this episode to deal with the question: Was Nero the Anti-Christ? Nero was married to Claudia Octavia, but he started an affair with Poppaea, which didn’t go down well with the people. He divorced Octavia on grounds of infertility, and the populace started demanding that he bring Octavia back, instead of going off with Poppaea. So he had Octavia killed, and staged it as a suicide. Nero was extravagant, and surrounded himself with yes-men who encouraged his indulgence. His reputation was so poor that when the Great Fire broke out, there were rumours that he set it himself as a land-clearing exercise to build a new temple. However, Tacitus says that Nero wasn’t even in Rome when the fire began. He blamed the Christians, who were Capital O ‘others’, and they hated him too – and maybe this leads to the reference to the Anti-Christ 666 (which makes the name Nero if you sprinkle some numerology jiggery-pockery over it). A conspiracy led by Piso was mounted against him, but he was betrayed and Nero embarked on a series of treason trials, which eventually led to him being declared an enemy of the state. In Episode 67- What an Artist the World is Losing we finally bid farewell to Nero, who became increasingly unhinged. His wife Poppaea died, either in childbirth, or because he kicked her to death. Nice. Plunged into sorrow, he had her embalmed and kept her beside him. In 66 AD the Zealot-led Great Revolt broke out in Judaea, leading Nero to appoint Vespasian to crush the uprising. Governors started rebelling against him, largely on the basis of his tax policies. The Senate eventually declared him a public enemy and warned that he would be beaten to death if he was found. So he suicided instead, or maybe he got his private secretary to do it. Either way, he was dead, at the age of 30, having ruled for 14 years. This brings us to the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. In Episode 68- Three Emperors, Mike Duncan explores the question of where legitimacy was to come from, if there were no more Julio-Claudians left. Mostly it came from the Governors, who were powerful in their own right, but had all been equally subject to the Emperor. In this episode he introduces three of the four emperors who ruled in 69AD (the fourth one was Vespasian, introduced in the last episode). First there was Galba (June 68- January 69AD), who became emperor with the support of the Praetorian Guard. He had been governor of Aquitania, Upper Germany and Africa, and most recently Hispania. He was old, frugal, hated bribery and was a disciplinarian. The second was Otho, only 5 years older than Nero, who was convinced that Galba would adopt him, and that when Galba died (he was old, after all), he would take his place. then there was Vitellius, a lazy and gluttonous governor, who was popular with the troops.
History Lab. History Lab is a collaboration between the Australian Centre for Public History linked with UTS, and radio producers so, as you might expect, there’s no dodgy sound here (which is a relief, I must admit. COVID has not been kind to history podcast production values because recordings of Zoom talks sound pretty woeful). They are not prolific, but their podcasts are really well produced. Season 4 The Last Outlaws looks at the story of Jimmy and Joe Governor, who were fictionalized (to his later regret) in Tom Keneally’s The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. In Episode 1, the lead researcher and law professor Katherine Biber connects with Aunty Loretta Parsley, the great-granddaughter of Jimmy Governor to get a fuller, family-based perspective on the events that led to Jimmy and Joe’s crimes. In Episode 2, Jimmy and Joe are proclaimed outlaws but -rather surprisingly really- Jimmy is not killed (despite being proclaimed an outlaw), faces trial and is sentenced to death. His case becomes a lightning rod for how justice is to be dispensed in newly federated Australia. While awaiting sentence, Jimmy’s demeanour and behaviour is documented in the prison keepers’ diary (a log, really). Episode 3 follows up on Joe Governor, who was shot and killed near Singleton. He had been declared an outlaw, and the Wilkinson brothers, who shot him, were not charged. Photos were taken of Joe’s body at the inquest held at the Caledonian Hotel (a common place to hold inquests), and the photos were not removed until 2019. As for the ancestral remains that were removed for study, it’s not really clear whether they are still held somewhere or whether they are lost. They were sent to the University of Sydney and who knows where from there.
Australia vs. the Climate Leading up to Glasgow, I’m listening to this Guardian series on Australia’s policy on climate change. Episode 1: Kyoto looks at the Kyoto COP and the backroom negotiations that led to Australia committing to increasing our emissions, and the ‘Australia clause’ that allowed us to count land-clearing that had already occurred. Then, after all that, Howard didn’t ratify it anyway. We are assholes, and shamefully, the Morrison/Joyce government is still claiming the free kick when boasting that we are “meeting and beating” our Kyoto targets.
Because of Anita Finishing off this podcast series, Episode 3: The Conversation features a conversation over Skype between Professor Anita Hill and Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who testified against Brett Kavanaugh when he was nominated for the US Supreme Court. There’s a lot of mutual admiration going on here, but you can hear how vulnerable Ford still is. Hill (I think) raises the point that there are few other occasions when people say “I believe you” when you tell them something, and what the unspoken part of that sentence is. Episode 4: The Movement looks at where we have come since Anita Hill’s testimony. Now there are 143 women in the Senate; Joe Biden called Anita Hill to apologize to her (as he should). But men’s reputations are still being protected, over women who were harmed (they don’t call them ‘victims’, but rather ‘women who were harmed’).
Stuff the British Stole (ABC) This is now in its second series but I’m going back to catch up on Series 1, of which I had only listened to the Gweagal shield episode. So, back to the beginning, the very first episode A Tiger and a Scream looks at Tipu’s Tiger (sometimes spelled Tippoo) a life-size wooden figure of a tiger eating an East India Company soldier, with a handle you can turn to play music. As the producer, Marc Funnell discovers, the figure is a big ‘F**k You’ to the British, created for Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore who was at that time fighting the British. The Tiger was looted and taken back to various British museums before ending up at the V&A where it has been restored, complete with the organ. Shashi Tharoor, author and Indian MP, who wrote Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India is one of those who feel that the Tiger should be repatriated to India.
Here’s a video of the rather weird organ inside the Tiger
Episode 2: Blood Art tells the story of the Benin Bronzes, plundered from the Nigerian kingdom of Benin (as distinct from the country of Benin today). In 1898 the Oba of Benin warned the British vice consul general James Robert Phillips and a large entourage of over 200 not to enter the city because rituals were being conducted, but they entered anyway. Only two Europeans survived the resulting massacre. In retaliation, a punitive expedition was mounted that sacked and destroyed Benin City. The artwork was looted, with an eye to selling them to fund the expedition. The British Library contains a large quantity of the bronzes, and has resisted returning them. This episode also tells the story of two policemen, formerly stationed at Kensington Palace, who felt that the Bronzes should be returned and set up a website to highlight the issue. They were approached by a man from Oxford, who had two of them brought home by his father. Together they sought to return them to the Oba of Benin, without the then-President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, claiming the glory.