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

History of Rome Podcast Episode 105 The Last Princeps sees an even younger Emperor – only 13- but Severus Alexander was the exception that proved the rule that a very young Emperor was usually a disaster. But it was the calm before the storm. His mother appointed a council of senators to advise him. He reigned for 13 years, the longest reign since Antoninus Pius. He re-established the Roman gods (although continued loyalty to El-Gabal probably influenced the Christian’s choice of December 25 as Christmas). But the Praetorians and his mother Julia Mamaea vied to influence him, and he could never stand up to his mother and grandmother. Episode 106 Barbarian at the Gate sees Severus Alexander having to cope with the rise of the Sassanids in the East under Ardashir I who played hard-ball. Severus Alexander had had to withdraw troops from the Danube regions to go over to Syria, and the Danubian legions were furious when Germanic tribes invaded, slaughtering their wives and children. From amongst the trooops came Maximinus Thrax, from Thrace, known as the first ‘Barbarian’ Emperor. He was declared emperor by his troops and he ordered the troops to kill all the Severans, including Severus Alexander and his family. He was only 26 years old, and for the next 50 years there would be a new emperor every two years, leaving the Empire almost at the point of extinction.

By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5,

Emperors of Rome Episode CXXXVII – Mother Knows Best (Severus Alexander I) sees the army, the people and his own grandmother swing their support behind his cousin, Severus Alexander. They brought Severus Alexander up very carefully, keeping him on a short leash so that he didn’t go rogue like Elagabalus did. He was about 14 when he became emperor, and he was advised by a group of senators (including the historian Cassius Dio himself). Episode CXXXVIII – Rise of the Sasanian Empire (Severus Alexander II) The Historia Augusta claims that Severus Alexander wanted to add Christ to his oratory of gods, and to build a temple to Christ but this is not historical. The Sasanians were an empire that rose out of the ashes of the Parthians in Iran, and they would be a leading regional power for the next 400 years. They called themselves The King of Kings, but we don’t really know a lot about them except that they caught the Roman army unawares. The troops demanded that Severus Alexander be there in person – no more shunting off the task of leading the troops to a general- now the emperor was expected to be there in person. Episode CXXXIX – A Fish in a Net (Severus Alexander III) Poor old Severus really is at the mercy of his historians. Herodian sees him as a namby-pamby, who cried as he left Rome as he went off to fight with 80-90,000 troops, and his mother. The army was itching for a fight, but Severus Alexander wasn’t. He divided his army into three: one segment in Armenia, another on the Tigris/Euphrates, and the third in Palmyria in Mesopotamia. He led this last group, and the Romans had to retreat after a humiliating retreat in winter, with many deaths on the march home. The Sasanians then went home, because they were a surge-force rather than a standing army. Rather dubiously, Severus Alexander held a triumph when he went home (it was certainly no victory). Episode CXL – A Ridiculous Waste of Time (Severus Alexander IV) No sooner had the eastern threat abated than the German tribes invaded to the north. It’s hard to know whether this invasion was a result of population pressure, or whether it was opportunistic. Severus Alexander didn’t want to fight here either, and offered to buy off the German troops- something that the troops couldn’t stomach. So they revolted and chose one of their own – a military man with the support of the troops. Severus Alexander and his mother were killed in his tent. Dr Caillan Davenport says that it’s hard to evaluate him, because he seems completed controlled by others. He was not bloodthirsty, he was deferential to the Senate and he built things. But he was not a successful leader in wartime, and he marked the end of the Severan dynasty which had lasted from 193-235 C.E.

History Extra Podcast It’s funny how you can read or learn about something at one stage in your life and it evinces lukewarm interest, then decades later you are fascinated by it. Perhaps the rise of the extreme-right across the world today that made Vichy France: Everything You Wanted to Know so fascinating. This is a question and answer session with Professor Shannon Fogg who wrote The Politics of Everyday Life in Vichy France: Foreigners , Undesirables , and Strangers in 2009. Good basic questions like Where was Vichy? Why Vichy? Did the arrangements with the Nazis also apply to the colonies? What was everyday life like? At the end, she talks about the way that Marshall Petain has been embraced by the right.

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