Well, another year of podcasts. And just think- a few months down the track, I will have finished listening to my Roman podcasts!
History of Rome Podcast In the last episode, we left Commodus dead in the bath. In Episode 98- Purchasing Power we meet Pertinax, who was presented as a fait accompli to the Senate and a ‘safe pair of hands’ to repair the damage that Commodus had wrought. He was the son of a freedman (which the Senate wasn’t too happy about) and he served in lots of battles and was experienced as a governor of important provinces. He was a strong disciplinarian, but he found that he had to ‘buy off’ the Praetorian Guard to get them to support him. But he only coughed up half of what he promised, and he was confronted by 300 angry Praetorians who stabbed him. He had a short ‘reign’- only 86 days. So what next? Well, find a new emperor who won’t try to wriggle out of his bribes. And so, there was an auction to work out who would come up with the goods! Didius Julianis ‘won’ the auction but he only lasted 66 days. Even though Didius Julianis had been raised in the house of Marcus Aurelius’ mother, and fought in Germany, he always lacked legitimacy and the troops wouldn’t support him. Episode 99 What Evil Have I Done? was his plaintive cry as he was killed in the palace after Severus took control in 193CE which was known as the Year of Five Emperors. There weren’t actually five emperors – only three because Severus triumphed- but there were five contenders to be Emperor- all army men. In Episode 100 Black and White and Severus All Over we meet the other two: Pescennius Niger (who people really expected to take over) and Clodius Albinus. Niger was older than Severus and Albinus, and he was upwardly mobile. He had been Governor of Syria and was pretty laid back about it all. Too laid back really, because Severus was closer to Rome and declared himself emperor while Niger’s troops were still marching. Clodius Albinis was chosen by Severus as a ‘Caesar’ to co-rule with him. Albinis had the support of the troops in Brittania and Gaul. When Severus appointed his elder son Caracalla as his successor with the title of Caesar, civil war broke out. After a hard-fought battle, Albinis was defeated and killed himself (or maybe was killed). And so in Episode 101 And All Was of Little Value Severus embarked on his 18 year reign. His major concern was keeping the support of the army (who had put him in his position) and he wasn’t really interested in governing, which he left to his prefect Plautianus. It had been prophesied that there was a woman in the East who would marry a King, so he sought her out and found Julia Doman in Syria and married her. He invaded Parthia and Britain, but in his absence Plautianus became more unscrupulous and powerful. Severus’ sons Caracalla and Geta hated each other, and they stitched up Plautianus and had him executed. In Episode 102 The Common Enemy of Mankind sees Severus invading Brittania and reinforcing Hadrian’s Wall as part of ‘pacifying’ the Caledonians. But when the Caledonians adopted guerilla warfare instead of ‘proper’ war, he embarked on a genocidal campaign. After his death, he appointed his sons as co-heirs but they hated each other. They divided the palace in half so that they didn’t have to see each other, and were contemplating doing the same thing to the Empire, but Caracalla got in first and had Geta killed in front of his mother, who had planned a meeting to ‘reconcile’ them. Then came a huge purge, and another invasion of Parthia on the false excuse of a ‘peace’ marriage. My God. I knew none of this. No wonder it’s the ‘decline and fall’ of the Empire.
This Union: Two Kingdoms (BBC) This is a fairly recent (Sept 2021) three-part series about the relationship between Scotland and England. Episode 1 Creation of the Union goes through the Act of Union in 1717 as a way of solving the succession crisis after Queen Anne. Apparently the English weren’t too keen about it either because Scotland was pretty much bankrupt after the Darien disaster, an attempt to establish a Scots colony in Panama. (I’d never heard of it). Episode 2 Cementing the Union sees Scotland sharing in the post-WWII welfare state with its state-owned enterprises in heavy industry. But we know what Maggie Thatcher did with those, don’t we. With the discovery of North Sea oil, Scotland felt even more miffed. Episode 3 Crossroads sees the creation of the Scottish Parliament facilitated by Labour governments in both England and Scotland. But the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party saw Labour eclipsed in Scotland, and the push towards a referendum. Even though the referendum (which was subject to a strong scare campaign about the economy) voted against independence, Brexit has changed things, and most young people, who do not have the nostalgia for big state-owned industry, are strongly in favour of independence. And as they say, demography is destiny. I really enjoyed this series.
Big Ideas (ABC) I’ve just finished reading Kate Holden’s The Winter Road (review to come!) and this July 2021 interview with the author How a dispute over land clearing turned deadly gives you a good idea of what the book is about. But read the book, because this interview doesn’t do justice to Holden’s beautiful prose and thoughtful meditations on themes wider than the true crime aspects of her story.
Emperors of Rome I’m continuing on with the series of episodes about the empresses. Episode CLVIII – Plotina deals with Trajan’s wife, who came from the provinces just like her husband did. She had to share the ‘Augusta’ title with Trajan’s sister Marciana, and then when Marciana died, Marciana’s daughter was made an Augusta instead. So she was never the sole Augusta, even though she and Trajan worked well as a unit. She was very fond of Hadrian and championed him after Trajan’s death. She was in the public eye for a long time. The episode features Professor T. Corey Brennan (Classics, Rutgers University). Episode CLIX – Sabina features Professor Brennan as well. Sabina was a grand-niece of Trajan, so when she married Hadrian, she lent legitimacy to his reign. She travelled with Hadrian, who as we know, loved to travel around, which made her very visible, and there are many coins featuring her image.There is some scandal concerning her, but we don’t know much about it. There are negative anecdotes about her being morose and irritable, and she took steps to make sure that she didn’t get pregnant. Brennan suggests that she was forced into suicide, because Hadrian had a view to his successor that he didn’t want her to change if he predeceased her. She was friends with the court poet Julia Balbilla.
Episode CLX – Faustina was the mother of Commodus and as the daughter of the previous Emperor, Faustina provided her husband, Marcus Aurelius, with a solid link to the imperial throne. She was eight when her father Antoninus became emperor, and at first she was engaged to Lucius Verras, but then the betrothal was changed to Marcus Aurelius. She and Marcus Aurelius had at least 14 children, of whom five daughters and Commodus survived. The sources aren’t very complementary about her, but perhaps that’s because they blame her for Commodus, suggesting that he might have been the product of adultery.
And then….back to the Emperors. Episode LXXXII – Pertinax follows much the same material as the ‘History of Rome’ above. Dr Caillan Davenport (Roman History, Macquarie University) points out that it is known as the Year of Five Emperors but there were actually only three (the other two claimed themselves to be Emperors but were not recognized as such beyond their troops). In Episode LXXXIII – Didius Julianus I still just can’t believe that the Praetorian Guard held an auction between the aspirants to role of emperor- an auction! Didius Julianus was 60 years old and an experienced governor and soldier, but when he turned up at the Senate with soldiers, people knew who had bought and paid for him. There were protests, but Didius killed the protestors. He tried to fortify Rome and even brought in the elephants to help him. By this time he was encircled by Severus, Albinus and Niger. The Senate had him killed. Episode LXXXIV – The African Emperor brings us Severus, born in Libya and known as the African emperor. He offered Albinus, whose support base was in Gaul, Spain and Brittania the junior rank of consul because he didn’t want him invading Rome too, forcing him to fight on three fronts. Severus arranged for big celebrations in Rome when he was proclaimed emperor. Episode LXXXV – Black and White looks at Severus’ early actions as emperor. It took him a year to defeat Niger, and afterwards he divided Syria in two in order that no other governor from the east could draw on 3 legions to threaten the emperor. He needed a foreign war so he provoked one with the Parthian vassals, although not Parthia itself. Then he indulged in some FAKE NEWS by proclaiming that Marcus Aurelius had adopted him, and that Commodus was his brother and demanding that Commodus should be deified (short memories here). Severus proclaimed his son his co-consul, which of course put Albinus (who was already co-consul) on the outer, so Severus turned on him too. Albinus was either forced to commit suicide or was trampled by a horse but either way, Albinus was out of the way too, leaving Severus the only emperor standing. He had the Senate ratify his spurious ‘sonship’ with Marcus Aurelius, and demanded that Commodus be deified, arguing that the Senator were just as bad as Commodus had been. Purges followed and by now he had got rid of all his enemies, and he raised the army pay by 50% or 100% to reward his friends.
Book It In (The Guardian) I quite enjoy Tony Birch’s stories and I enjoyed this interview with Paul Daley. Tony Birch on writing true characters in fiction discusses his childhood in 1960s Fitzroy and the nature of the relationship between off-the-books businesses (SP bookies, pawn shops, bars etc) and the police. He talks about the rock-like strength of the women in his childhood, the masculine violence that surrounded him, and the way that if the characters are right in fiction, the politics comes through anyway. In relation to non-indigenous writers creating indigenous characters, he argues that if they do so, they need to take responsibility and defend what they are doing. Aboriginal people need to own their stories, and white writers need to own their own stories of colonialism. He speaks about Gary Foley, who has never been represented in the Schwartz empire, and his contribution to politics and community.