History Extra Podcast This year was the bicentenary of the 1821 Greek War of Independence, or as Historian Mark Mazower prefers to call it,The Greek Revolution. In the episode Triumph against the odds: the 1821 Greek Revolution, he counts it as a ‘revolution’ alongside the American, French and Napoleonic revolutions which occurred not that much before. He sees the path to revolution more as a chain of events rather than adopting Marxist or nationalistic explanations. It was a bad time to have a revolution, because the European powers had come to a consensus that there would be no more revolutions after Napoleon. It was public opinion, often based on the enthusiasm for Classical Greece among Romantics and intellectuals, that led to the European powers finally becoming involved. It started in Romania, not Greece, against an Ottoman empire that was having trouble, having extended itself too far into Europe. In many ways, the changes that it prompted in the Ottoman Empire were as important as the territory gained by the Greek state. The 150th anniversary was claimed by the military junta in power in 1971, which took a bit of a shine off it. This 200th anniversary was affected by COVID, and has taken the form more of art exhibitions and conference rather than a display of strength.
The Real Story (BBC) Just to add to my unease about the emergence of right-wing populist politics world-wide here’s What’s going wrong with the Balkans? featuring Alida Vračić – Co-founder and head of the Bosnia-based thinktank Populari; Ivan Vejvoda – Head of the Europe’s Future programme at the Vienna-based academic institution The Institute for Human Sciences (IWM); and Charles Kupchan – Formerly Director for European Affairs on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, Senior Director for European Affairs during the Obama administration – now a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University. The rise of Serb nationalism, with its downplaying of massacres on the grounds that ‘other sides did it too’ and the linking of support from other right-wing populists, is chilling.
Stuff the British Stole (BBC) In 1977 five-year old Graziella Ortiz-Patino was kidnapped in Geneva. Her Mafia-linked abductors demanded a $2 million dollar ransom, which her wealthy art-collector father paid. To do so, he had to sell objects from his collection, including the Montunui epa, five intricately carved wooden panels that had briefly appeared, then disappeared, in the early 1970s. This episode The Abductions explores this dual abduction of the epa and a little girl – although this time there is a happy ending.
The Emperors of Rome Well, Marcus Aurelius has shuffled off this mortal coil, so I’ll listen to my two ‘Rome’ podcasts in tandem. Episode LXXII – On Behalf of the State deals with the uprising by Cassius, a formerly loyal governor in Syria. Was Marcus’ wife Faustina in on it? Probably not, thinks Dr Rhiannon Evans, who sees it more as a matter of fake news. Certainly not, thought Marcus Aurelius himself, who wouldn’t hear a word against her. But Cassius was killed by his own troops, riding out to meet with Marcus Aurelius who wanted to talk with him. And soon Marcus Aurelius really was dead. Which brings us to Commodus. Episode LXXIII – From a Kingdom of Gold sees the 19 year old Commodus become emperor, as Marcus Aurelius had wanted. After all, he’d been pushing him up the ladder of success all along, making him a consul at just 15. Why? Dr Evan’s suggests that Dio, a major source, is making a bigger argument about blood not necessarily being the best qualification for leadership (Dio champions the 5 good emperors, none of whom were direct heirs). Nonetheless, it would be a really big thing to pass over your own son in the line of succession. Marcus Aurelius was said to have died not from his disease (which was probably the plague) but at his doctors’ hands. In judging his significance, Dr Evans notes that he satisfied the Senators, didn’t alienate anyone and that he did as well as he could. (I think he’s a bit better than this lukewarm praise. You’ve got to love a leader who THINKS, don’t you?) Episode LXXIV – Iron and Rust deals with his 12 year reign. Edward Gibbons in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire starts off the decline with Commodus, arguing that immorality and the loss of power are linked. Dr Evans sees it as bad leadership and what has been left to him. Commodus mixed up the public and the private e.g. he put his freedman lover Saoterus into his rather prematurely granted triumph. The first assassination attempt on his life came after just two years, where the assassin stuffed up by theatrically declaring “Here’s the dagger the Senate sends you” before stabbing him and getting himself arrested. Episode LXXV – Flying Too Close to the Sun looks at the fate of Commodus’ right hand men who ran the empire while he was off indulging his desires. Saoterus withdrew ended up getting killed after the assassination attempt. Perennis, a Praetorian Prefect took over, and was not incompetent but when British troops decided to choose their own emperor, Perennis ended up being put to death on the accusation, led by Cleander that he was plotting against Commodus. Cleander was a freed man, which the Senators hated, and after getting rid of Perennis, he took power, selling positions to the highest bidder (another no-no as far as Edward Gibbons is concerned. Commodus was becoming increasingly paranoid, and there was daily, if not hourly, turnaround of the people he trusted. He was also a populist, and when the people protested against food shortages, they set up children to begin chanting against Cleander, then the adults took up the cry – and so Commodus got rid of him too. Episode LXXVI – It’s Good to be the King looks at the sources, which are unanimously against Commodus. That might be expected, but we have coins and statues to back up their claims of his meglomania. He wanted everything named after him- the months, even Rome itself! But he slummed it too, which was unforgivable, by becoming a gladiator, something that Dr Evans likens to Queen Elizabeth going on Big Brother. He killed lots of animals- hippos, elephants-, modelled himself on Hercules, and was downright intimidating.
The History of Rome Podcast Episode 96 The Most Aptly Named Emperor introduces the 19 year old Commodus, the first direct heir emperor in a long time- he was ‘born to the purple’. He was likened by his enemies as Nero and Caligula combined, but the general population liked him, because he gave them games. He was quick to withdraw troops from the Danube, thus securing the support of the soldiers. However, Commodus’ reign marked the end of the line for the Senate. When his sister Lucille unsuccessfully conspired against him in 182, the cycle of purge and proscription against wealth senators recommenced. However, Commodus chose well in his right hand man Perennis, who was pretty competent.
Boyer Lectures (ABC) Episode 4 Imaginary Forces starts off by considering the importance of reading and listening in the past, compared with today where visual is king. Shakespeare’s audiences generally came long prepared to listen rather than watch. His characters often announce where they are, and Shakespeare puts in their words vivid descriptions of what the audience is to imagine. He also conveys the emotional timbre of the play through light and dark (his comedies take place during the day where his tragedies take place at night) and through climate (Romeo and Juliet is set in hot Verona, Macbeth in on a blasted heath, the final scene of Lear is in a storm). I think that I liked this episode best out of the four, but can I confess to being just a bit disappointed in the whole series?