I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-31 March 2022

History of Rome Episode 118 The Palmyrene Wars brings Zenobia onto centre stage. How have I gone my whole life without hearing about Zenobia?

Zenobia on a coin. Source: Wikimedia

She was the widow of Odaenathus of Palmyra and after his assassination she stepped right in. She took Egypt, Syria and part of Anatolia, each time paying lip service to the Roman emperor but really ruling in her own right. At first she minted coins with the emperor on one side and her image (the only images we have of her) on the other but she soon gave up the pretence and minted coins with herself and her son depicted. Aurelian finally decided that he needed to deal with her. Aurelian’s reputation as a hard man preceded him, and most of the Eastern cities recently annexed by Zenobia just capitulated, fearing what was to come. But to everyone’s surprise, because of a dream in which the 1st century philosopher Apollonius begged him not to shed the blood of the innocent, Aurelian did not go round sacking cities. This was a master stroke because it meant that cities did not fear surrendering to him. He regained Syria and Egypt and went on to Palmyra, where Zenobia and her son had fled, seeking assistance. Aurelian’s troops captured her there, but he wanted her for a triumph back in Rome. In Episode 119- Restitutor Orbis, Zenobia might have been captured, but the leading men of Palmyra regretted capitulating so meekly and so they fomented rebellion, forcing Aurelian to return for a second time to quash the insurgency. He was pissed off this time, and while not killing everyone (Apollonius’ advice still stood firm) he levelled the city and shifted the trade route, which is why Palmyra is in ruins today. Aurelian then turned his attention to the Gallic Empire, which he regained after some sort of arrangement with the ‘Gallic Emperor’ Tetricus. Always conscious of the need to keep the soldiers paid, Aurelian increased the number of mints issuing coins, but kept central control. Now that he had both Palmyra and the Gallic Empire under his belt, he finally had his triumph back in Rome, where he was proclaimed Restitutor Orbis (Restorer of the World). Not just the world: he restored Sol Invictus as God too (shades of Elagabalus) hoping to institute one faith across the empire. This was to make it easier when Constantine had the same strategy. Despite his triumph in bringing the empire back together again during his largely successful five-year reign, Aurelian was assassinated by his generals, who immediately regretted it. Episode 120- Interregnum sees neither the army nor the Senate wanting to nominate a successor to Aurelian. After all, emperors seemed to have a short shelf-life and there was a good chance that their sponsors would end up assassinated too. After Aurelian’s death, an old Senator named Marcus Cluadius Tacitus briefly reigned before the throne fell to Probus, who ruled from 276-282. Barbarian invasions continued but he was happy to accept the surrender of German tribes as long as they disarmed and dispersed – a policy that was followed until the Huns came on the scene. There was relative peace during his reign, but this led to unemployment among the soldiers, and so they assassinated him too. He was followed by Carus who reigned from 282 to 283, followed by his sons Carinus and Numerian. Carinus seemed to have been a lecherous tyrant, and Numerian suffered a smelly death. Finally Diocletian took over, and he was to overhaul the Empire completely.

Soul Search There’s an interesting episode in Gods: from Ancient Greece to the Antipodes The first part of the program ties in with the current exhibition Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes, an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. There is a discussion about the role of fate and destiny in the Greek world, where the gods were ever-present and capricious, and the cultural reach of Greek mythology. It’s following by a discussion of Rev. Charles Strong’s Australian Church, which it just happens I spoke about at our Unitarian Fellowship last week.

Ben Franklin’s World I saw a reference recently to Caitlyn Fitz’s book Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of American Revolutions (1775-1825) which looks at the relationship between the newly-independent US and the different countries in Latin America which achieved independence from Spain and Portugal. She is interviewed in a rather muddily-recorded Episode 90 Caitlyn Fitz Age of American Revolutions : surely the sound could be better than this! She points out that Spain and Portugal arrived in Latin America a century before British Settlement in North America, and the Spanish and Portuguese empires lasted longer in a continent that was ten times larger than the Continental States that constituted the United States at that time. When Napoleon was engaged in the Peninsula War, a vacuum in power opened up amongst the Spanish colonies, and made space for revolution. After North Americans emerged after the 1820s war, they looked around and decided that they were quite supportive of the revolutions in Latin America, although this didn’t extend to financial support. Even amongst slave-owning states, there was support for gradual abolition, even though there had been horror at the Haiti revolution. When asked to speculate on what would have happened if the French Revolution hadn’t happened, Fitz suggests that the independence movements probably wouldn’t have arisen, but would have instead been channelled into constitutional reform.

History This Week I recently finished reading Anna Sebba’s book Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy so I was interested to listen to this episode Ethel Rosenberg’s Day in Court. If you’re not likely to read the book, then listen to this instead. It has interviews with Sebba and Ethel Rosenberg’s son Robert Meeropol, who says that despite losing his parents, he is glad that he was not his uncle David Greenglass’ son.

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