I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 16-23 January 2022

The Forum (BBC) In some of my Roman history podcast listening, there was mention of someone called Boo-dicker. I’d never heard Boadicea’s name pronounced Boudica (Boo-dicker) and it took me a while to work out who they were talking about. Boudica, warrior queen features Professors Richard Hingley and Miranda Aldhouse-Green and Dr. Jane Webster. Boudica was the wife of the leader of the Iceni people. When he was killed in around 60AD and her daughters (and probably she, too) were raped, Boudica, driven by Roman brutality, led a rebellion against the Roman army and marched on London. The Romans were completely unprepared for the uprising, and even though she was defeated, she has gone down in history. She was ‘recovered’ in Elizabethan England, where parallels were drawn between these two female red-headed leaders, and again in Victorian imperial times (although if they thought about it, she was a guerilla insurgent, not the Victorian imperialists’ favourite person). The Suffragettes adopted her too.

How It Happened (Axios) In the midst of COVID and Black Lives Matter, the Abraham Accords seem to have fallen from view. In this two-part series Trump’s Big Deal, Jonathan Swan talks with Axios Middle East correspondent Barak Ravid about how seemingly out of thin air, all of a sudden Arab countries decided that they wanted to have treaties with Israel. I didn’t trust it then, and I don’t trust it now. In Trump’s Big Deal Part I: May Your House Be Destroyed, we learn how Donald Trump, through his son-in-law Jarrod Kushner, wanted to “deal” to make the West Bank an international meeting place. After moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, and siding with the extreme right-wingers of both the Republicans and Israeli politics, Trump was blindsided by Netanyahu’s annexation of the West Bank announced at a public meeting. In Trump’s Big Deal Part II: From Secret Alliance to the Abraham Accords sees how these accords were leveraged to stop Netanyahu from annexing the West Bank, thus scuppering forever a two-state solution. Apparently there were always links between Arab states and Israel, and this has just formalized them. I can’t see this ending well.

Rough Translation (NPR) It was appropriate that I listen to May We Have This Dance, given that I had just finished reading Deirdre O’Connor’s Harlem Nights, about the introduction of Jazz into Australia through Black American bands during the 1930s. This program is about Lindy Hop, which originated in Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s and has since gained a following across the world, with large communities in Sweden and South Korea. It’s now being reclaimed by Black communities in the United States.

History of Rome podcast. I’m getting there- this is episode 103 out of 189. Maybe I’ll finish this in 2022! Episode 103 The Equestrian looks at Caracella (formally known as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus), who Mike Duncan sees as being as bad as they come, but only an extension of his father’s behaviour. Caracella was a nick-name, just as Caligula was a nick-name, and it actually means ‘Cloak’. No one called him Caracella in front of him. In order to increase the tax base, he extended citizenship to every free man in the empire (except women and slaves of course). An oracle in North Africa prophesied that the praetorian prefect Macrinus would wear the purple, so in Caracella’s mind it was a matter of ‘kill or be killed’. It’s not really certain how the assassination of Macrinus occurred (except that he had stopped for a piss on the side of the road) and was stabbed. Macrinus, who took over never actually set foot in Rome. He heard that the Severins were plotting to overthrow him, and so he really should have killed the whole family (if he was a proper Roman) but he just exiled them instead. Big mistake. Caracella’s aunt Julia Maesa started championing her grandsons Elagabalus and Severus Alexander.

Emperors of Rome Episode CXIII – Fratricidal Discord (Caracalla I) sees Severus dead in York and not one but two sons primed to take over. Well, Caracella was much better primed than Geta because he was the elder son. Caracella was ruthless in killing off his opposition by killing him personally with his own two hands in front of their mother. He claimed that Geta was a traitor and had his image expunged from images, coins and the public record. Episode CXIV – Mutilating Rome (Caracalla II) Now that Caracella was the sole emperor of the Roman empire he was able to act as he wished. The army liked him, but that’s about all. He embarked on lots of killing of family, although he didn’t get rid of all of his father’s advisors. The extension of citizenship throughout the empire increased the tax take and meant that Roman law became even more widespread. Instead of the citizen/non-citizen distinction, there was now ‘more honourable’ citizen and ‘more humble’ citizen, which played out in the types of punishments meted to them. The granting of widespread citizenship really rankled with many people. Episode CXV – Ausonian Beast (Caracalla III) sees Caracella travelling the provinces, wanting to be seen as a military leader in his own right. His mother, Julia Domna travelled with him, leading to rumours of incest. He forestalled conflict by paying off potential uprisings. He styled himself as a latter-day Alexander the Great, but he was very thin-skinned when the Alexandrians cracked jokes about him. Episode CXVI – Red Wedding (Caracalla IV)The Roman Empire had engaged in Parthian wars for generations, stretching back, off and on, to the days of Pompey the Great. It was a bit like Russia and the US Cold War- and now Caracella was going to have his shot at Parthia. There was a proposal that Caracella would marry a Parthian princess, but it was a trick- he actually had amassed 80-90,000 troops – and during the ceremony he ordered that the troops invade and kill everyone. Nice. Episode CXVII – Disgraced Human Nature (Caracalla V)The historian Edward Gibbon perhaps summed up Caracalla quite succinctly, when he used this phrase to describe his demise while answering a call of nature on the side of the road: “Such was the end of a monster whose life disgraced human nature, and whose reign accused the patience of the Romans.” Dr Caillan Davenport doesn’t think much of him either, designating him as one of the worst emperors, although he did leave buildings e.g. the Caracella Baths. But get this- you can actually get married at Caracella Hall at the Caracella Baths. Lots of nice red carpet. Ugh. Episode CXXII – Purple by Merit in steps Macrinus- the wrong position, the wrong class, the wrong man. Well, Caracella was killed having a slash (to put it colloquially)- but now what? The soldiers had murdered the emperor and they needed to replace him quick, so they looked to a man on the spot. Macrinus was proclaimed emperor on Severus’ birthday, hoping to portray continuity and he took the names of Severus. He needed to consolidate his empire, so he was happy to bring wars to a close and make peace payments. Macrinus embodied the tension between a hereditary system and the ‘best man’ argument. Heredity was to win out.

History Extra Podcast America’s Roaring Twenties: Everything you wanted to know. I’m on a bit of a 1920s kick at the moment. My grandmothers (who I never met) were young women during the 1920s and I’d like to understand the era better. This podcast, featuring American historian Sarah Churchwell, was a little too American for my liking- although she is careful to distinguish when she is talking about American, as distinct from British or European, experience. She points out that America only really experienced one year of war, which boosted its feelings of invincibility, and that the experience of the ‘roaring twenties’ depended on class and place. Nonetheless, the emphasis on youth, the presence of party generations (think Gatsby, or the Bright Young Things), invention and theatre did mark a real change from Victorian and Edwardian life.

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