I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-7 December 2021

Emperors of Rome. I’m really enjoying this Australian podcast, with the interplay between the presenters, Dr Rhiannon Evans (from my very own La Trobe University) and Matt Smith. So I’m five years behind- doesn’t matter. Episode LII Hadrian the Little Greek goes through Trajan’s search for a successor. His wife was pushing for Hadrian, but Trajan wasn’t completely won over and made sure that Hadrian went through the usual career path (military, governor etc). As usual, Dr Rhiannon Evans is very concerned with sources, noting that with Hadrian we actually have a biography (however biassed) to draw on. Episode LIII Rome Welcomes Hadrian sees him take over power, although he got off to a bad start by having four prominent senators assassinated. Not a good start. He pulls back troops from Parthia, which doesn’t go down well either. Episode LIV There and Back Again (An Emperor’s Tale) sees Hadrian taking the scenic route of about four years to tour his empire, planting cities and planning building projects. While withdrawing troops into defensible areas, he fortified the walls to the north (Hadrian’s Wall) and south (in Africa). These walls were part of the cultural declaration of Roman power, and they made a finite line on a map as well as keeping the Army busy as peacekeepers. He finally finished off the Temple of Olympian Zeus, 638 years after it was started. Did I mention that Hadrian really liked Greece?

Temple of Olympian Zeus- Wikimedia

Episode LV What Hadrian Loves Best looks at the three things he loved most. First, building big buildings. He built the Temple of Venus and Roma in Rome itself (thus bringing together his love of Greek and Roman ideas) on the last bit of land remaining from Nero’s Golden Palace, and he rebuilt the Pantheon for the third time (it had burnt down twice). He didn’t tend to put his own name on buildings. His second love- well, maybe- was his wife Vabia Sabina, although it didn’t seem to be a particularly happy marriage. His third love was his young lover Antinous, who died in controversial circumstances although no-one seems to think that Hadrian was behind it. Some say it was form of self-sacrifice. Anyway, how he died is not that important, but Hadrian’s action in deifying him afterwards is, especially as it was the first time that someone outside the imperial family was deified, and very quickly. Episode LVI May His Bones Rot deals with Hadrian’s treatment of Judea and Jerusalem. Titus had wrecked Jerusalem, and Trajan was struggling to put down a Judean Revolt. He had to deal decisively with Judea. He sacked it, rebuilt it as a Roman City, forbade Jews from entering it and banned circumcision. No wonder Simon Bar Kokhbar rose up as a messianic leader (something that the Christians weren’t keen on) and a guerilla fighter. It was a bloody 3.5 year war, even for the Romans, and the market was flooded with Jewish slaves. Just as with the Daicians, they were completely dispossessed, but the Jews managed to keep their culture intact. Episode LVII Little Soul, Little Wanderer, Little Charmer brings Hadrian’s life to a tetchy close. He executed Apollodoris, the architect (who had mocked Hadrian, long before he was emperor, as the designer of ‘pumpkins’, given his penchant for domes) as well as Fuscus and Servianas. He took a long time to die.

Then, because History of Rome podcast has moved onto Antoninus Pius, I thought I’d catch him on Emperors of Rome as Well. In Episode LXV Anoninus Pius they deal with him in one episode (think, twenty two years of power for one measly episode). Still, he only became emperor in 138CE as a means of keeping the empire safe until Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus came of age.

Things the British Stole (ABC) This episode The Headhunters discusses the trade in decapitated, dried, and tattooed Māori heads that has led to their presence in museums across the world. The British, prompted by Joseph Banks, were an insatiable market for these ‘curiosities’, which were often obtained by other Maori tribes and exchanged for weapons. Meanwhile Ta moko facial tattoos, once synonymous with Maori urban gangs, are now becoming popular again as a sign of cultural identity. As with Australian indigenous artefacts and human remains, there is now an indigenous-led movement to get the objects and remains repatriated home.

Boyer Lectures 2021 (ABC) Soul of the Age- Shakespeare’s Women Of course, women were not allowed to act on the stage in Shakespeare’s time, so all the parts written for women were done so with a male actor in mind. He goes through the different types of women in Shakespeare’s work- comedic characters, gender-bender confusions, women showing up the men in wisdom and empathy, women ‘unsexing’ themselves to become like men. He considers Cleopatra to be the best female Shakespearean character. It’s a shame he spoiled it by drawing an unduly long bow at the end of his talk to linking Shakespeare’s women to “issues of domestic violence, predatory male behaviour in the workplace, be it on the factory floor or in Parliament House. It forces us to confront the issues of equal pay, equal opportunity and redefining of male/female roles in our society.”

The History of Rome Podcast Episode 85- Antoninus the Dutiful. At least Hadrian had worked out the succession before he died, and Antoninus was embraced by the Senate as being a Senator’s Senator. This is generally seen as the “Golden Age” of the Roman Empire, because it was stable, although in many ways Antoninus just kicked the can further down the road. He was 51 years old when he came to power and lived and thus ruled for much longer than people thought he would. He was called Antoninus Pius either because he lobbied hard for Hadrian to be deified (because it reflected on his own legitimacy) OR because he stopped persecuting individual senators. Either way, he didn’t travel around like Hadrian did and was an Italian homebody. Despite skirmishes on the borders (e.g. he had to build a second wall further north in Scotland called the Antonine Wall), there was no big war and continuity was valued. In Episode 86 Wealth and Class, he draws breath at last to compare life in Second Century Rome with late republican Rome (he last did this in Episode 28, so it has been a while). There was real inequality, with the wealth of the emperors increasing with expansion. Society was divided between slaves, freedmen, and free citizens of every economic class. Despite the influx of Jewish slaves after Hadrian razed Jerusalem, there was a low birth rate among the slaves, and it was a sign of status that you could afford to manumit your slaves. Freedmen remained in a client relationship with their former owners. Free farming families were pushed to the cities by large slave-owning families, although many peasants stayed in their birth place. The poor urban masses were provided with grain and games, but the lower middle class had to scape by. Actually, it all sounds a bit grim really. Episode 87- Thinking and Feeling goes through the pretty soul-destroying education system in the Second Century, where fathers no longer educated their sons but instead outsourced it first to educated Greek slaves, and then to schools. At primary level both girls and boys were drilled in the 3Rs, while secondary school concentrated on grammar and then rhetoric. It was all so stultifying that no wonder they looked to philosophy and religion for meaning. The Romans had always been polytheistic, and now Eastern mystical religions were added to the mix. Christianity was one of these cults (and lots of American Christians are taking offence in Mike Duncan’s comments feed about Christianity being called a cult). Christianity was particularly problematic because it insisted on just one god, and attracted the underclass, who were the majority. Philosophy attracted the higher, leisured classes, in particular the Stoics (where reason overcame emotion) and the Epicureans (who believed that if something caused you pain, you should stop doing it). Both philosophies led to peaceful citizens, but they were derided at the time. Episode 88- A Day in the Life is about everyday life in Rome, which is more or less why I started listening to this podcast in the first place. A Roman day went from sunrise to sunset, because there was no street lighting and the streets were dangerous and full of delivery vans at night. So all that sitting around in the bath-house and lounging over a meal took place during the day. Episode 89 Provincial Matters takes us on a whirlwind tour of the Antonine empire, following Hadrian’s route previously. There were more or less 42 provinces, which were either Senatorial or Imperial Provinces (i.e. under the direct control of the emperor, with legions stationed there). I really enjoyed this, although it would have been better if I had the map (on his webpage) with me while I was listening.

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