I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 15-23 February 2022

History of Rome Podcast 109- The New Millennium tells us that we really don’t know how much Phil the Arab (is that too familiar? Probably) had to do with Gordian III’s death. The Senate wanted Gordian deified and they did so over Philip’s objections – sign of a guilty conscience? Philip and his brother Gaius divided the Empire into East and West in order to govern it. Mike Duncan pauses at this stage to discuss the Goths. It is unclear whether they came from Sweden and pushed into Ukraine, or whether they were native to Ukraine. Either way, by 238 AD they were on Rome’s doorstep with persistent border raids, especially in Dacia. Philip oversaw the ‘secular’ games in 248 CE to celebrate Rome’s 1000th birthday which, despite the name, were highly religious. Meanwhile there was a rebellion in Moesia (near Kosovo) but the wise old senator Decius predicted that it wouldn’t last. Nonetheless, Philip sent Decius north to take charge of the troops. Another big mistake. There is a view, contested between historians, that Philip was the first Christian emperor, but this was probably only in comparison to Decius who outright persecuted them. He probably wasn’t. Ep.110 A Gothic Horror sees Decius (invited/compelled) by the troops to lead them back to Rome to confront Philip, whom the troops felt had been too reluctant to confront the Goths. Once Decius became emperor, he decided that Rome had lost its way because the gods had abandoned it on account of lax morality. He decreed that everyone had to sacrifice to the gods within 30 days- something that the Christians had a real problem with. After Decius was gone (it didn’t take long), the Christians had a real problem: what should they do with those Christians who complied? The second thing he decreed was that the role of Censor should be revitalized to improve the virtue of Rome. He offered it to Valerian, but he declined it – a wise move because it was too dangerous and impossible anyway. Then the Goths invaded, and both Phil and his son were killed.

The Coming Storm (BBC) I’m really enjoying this podcast. Episode 3 The Basement looks at the development of 4-chan and 8-chan, which stemmed from a site for video game fans. A severely disabled boy, Frederick Brennan, gets drawn into a toxic world of mainly young men and launches 8chan. It is on 4chan that ‘Pizzagate’ was spawned: a story about Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, paedophilia and a pizza restaurant. Episode 4 Q Drops looks at ‘Q’, a supposed insider, who tells a story in which Trump is engaged in an epic battle against a cabal of satanic paedophiles who have hijacked the American Republic. Frederick Brennan moved to the Phillipines where 8chan was taken over by Jim Watkins because it was getting too big and expensive for him. There’s a suggestion that Jim Watkins might be Q, or might know who he is. This is all crazy stuff.

Emperors of Rome Episode CLXV – Phillip asks ‘who would want to rule Rome?’ Why did the younger brother become emperor and not his older brother Gauis? Perhaps it was because Philip had a son, and could start a dynasty, which he commenced by appointing his 9 or 10 year old son Caesar. But really, to be emperor was on a hiding to nothing. He contracted a peace treaty with Armenia by paying money comprising 3% of the income of the empire paid as a tribute to Persia, not that the Romans called it a ‘tribute’. Then he contracted a peace treaty on the Danube. I can imagine that the troops didn’t think much of all these peace treaties. Dr Caillan Davenport calls the 1000 year celebrations the ‘cyculum’ games, based on the idea that they would only be seen once in a man’s life time (assuming that he lived to about 110). Dr Davenport discusses the claims that Philip was the first Christian emperor, pointing out that the claims are not found in the usual sources. Instead the stories seem to be ‘floating anecdotes’ which appear in a variety of sources, decontextualized from time and location- and thus, pretty suspect. Episode CLXVI – The Edict of Sacrifice (Decius I) goes into more detail about Decius’ instructions that all Romans (women, slaves, babies included- everyone except Jews) should make a sacrifice. Decius, an older man, had been claimed as emperor by the troops he was sent to command, and his troops fought with Philip’s troops at Verona and Philip and his son were killed. Decius himself came from current-day Serbia, and he carefully crafted his image for what he hoped would be a new Decian dynasty. For example, he added ‘Trajan’ to his name, trying to evoke “the good old days” and made much of his Danubian roots. Within the first two or three months of his reign, he issued the Edict of Sacrifice, a very public act of compulsory sacrifice, and a huge bureaucratic undertaking, with cards attesting that the sacrifice had been made. Those who refused could be imprisoned, beheaded or burnt. The Bishop of Rome was the first to be executed. In Episode CLXVII – The Gothic Invasion (Decius II) Dr Caillan Davenport suggests that the Goths may have originally come to Ukraine from Poland (or there are some suggestions of Scandinavia).’Goth’ means simply “The People” and in the mid 3rd century, they were still one people, not yet divided into Visigoths and Ostrogoths. They were led by King Kniva, who although initially defeated by Decius who was leading his troops, then pushed forward to take Phillippolis (in current Bulgaria). Dr Davenport then goes on at some length about a letter under Decius’ name but probably not his pen, to the governor of Phillippolis, telling him to wait until Decius himself arrived before embarking on battle with the Goths – Davenport has written an article about it, so he does go on a bit. Episode CLXVIII – The Battle of Abritus (Decius III) sees Decius and his son being killed at the Battle of Abritus. The Christian sources exulted in his death, seeing Decius only as a persecutor. The Battle of Abritus was a bad defeat, on a par with the Battle of Teuteoburg Forest, and it sent shockwaves through Rome. Decius had had a vision for the empire, but he had only a short reign, perhaps best seen as unfulfilled potential.

London Review of Books Podcast. I’ve just finished reading Anne Sebba’s book Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy. In this podcast, Ethel and Julius, Deborah Friedell discusses the book, giving a good summary of its contents (so much so that you barely need to read the book). The article on the LRB website is good too.

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