History of Rome Podcast Episode 123 The Tetrarachy We had two emperors before (Diocletian and Maximian) and now it was about to become four with the addition of Constantius and Galerius in 293AD. Mike Duncan makes the rather large claim that the years of the Tetrarachy were amongst the most important in Rome’s history, laying down the ground rules for late antiquity. It does, however, cause a narrative problem for Duncan as a podcaster, because now there are 4 centres of power. The self-elected ’emperor’ Carausius was still sitting over in Britain, but before Diocletian and Maximian could confront him, they needed to make sure that the Germanic tribes had been pacified first. However, Maximian failed to retake Britain in 289 AD. So who were these other new emperors: Constantius and Galerius? Constantius had married Maximian’s daughter, and we really don’t know much about Galerius. However, in 293 AD they were named as part of the Tetrarachy (although they didn’t call it that then) as junior partners. Constantius was given oversight of Gaul and Britain; Maximian had Spain, Africa and Italy; Galerius had responsibility for the Danube, and Diocletian concentrated on the Far East. However, these were not demarcated political units: Diocletian always emphasized unity.
Episode 124 The Tetrarachs at War sees Constantius embarking on the job of retaking Britain. It was a hard task, because Carausius was a very able ruler, and well supported. But not supported well enough, because he was assassinated by Allectus. During Maximian’s earlier attempt to take Britain, they landed in one place but this time Constantius landed his fleets in two places. Allectus didn’t have the popular support that Carausius had enjoyed, and the people were more frightened of the Franks than the Romans, so they were willingly reabsorbed back into the empire. Meanwhile, over on the Danube, Galerius was battling with the Sassanids, who were restive again and invaded Armenia and threatened Syria. The Romans were defeated at first. Diocletian had to leave the east to go to Egypt to quash a rebellion there, and Galerius had another go at the Sassanids in Armenia, and this time he had the last word.
Diocletian wrought many changes, but always with the aim of saving the old order, not introducing a new one. Episode 125 The Best Defence is a Good Defence starts off with a summary of the changes in the Roman military over time. From the citizen army, they had gone to the Maniple structure of fighting. Professional standing armies were introduced, but they mainly ended up fighting other Romans. Augustus introduced garrisons to protected what they had captured and Hadrian and Antoninus Pius built walls. From the 3rd century AD onwards, the numerical strength of invading forces outnumbered that of the Roman legions. So Diocletian introduced 4 changes: 1. He devised a ring of small militarized provinces around the empire 2. He separated the civilian and military career paths. No longer could you have a soldier emperor. Instead, there was a general and there was a governor- two men. 3. He divided the army into legions and static frontier militia. 4. instituted webs of defence across the empire (i.e. ‘defence in depth’) which would slow an opponent’s army down, causing it to lose memomentum although this argument, exemplified by Edward Luttwak’s work, is somewhat disputed and not well supported by archaeological evidence.
Rules Based Audio. This podcast is put out from the Lowy Institute. In Ukraine and the Future of the Rules Based Order, the presenter Ben Scott discusses the war in Ukraine and international law with Professor Fleur Johns and Dr Eve Massingham. They talk about the laws of war, economic sanctions, cyber operations, neutrality, international humanitarian law, and war crimes. Certainly it’s all more complex than it might appear at first. International law is just one tool that can be deployed in this situation, and even though it may not be particularly useful at the moment, it will bring accountability once hostilities have stopped, and will (hopefully) be useful in controlling behaviour in the future (e.g. Ukraine asking for guarantees of security). Cyber war is a new complication (i.e. it is not legal to give information to direct an attack), and sanctions using electronic banking is another new horizon. It was surprising to learn what is legal under international war, and what is not.
God Forbid (ABC) The March 20 episode Ukraine and Russia: religion and the politics of war is well worth listening to (and I did- three times, because I was listening to it in bed and I kept falling asleep!) With its own panel of speakers and drawing on interviews on other ABC radio programs, it looks at the Orthodox Church, Putin’s war against Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow’s support of Putin and the resultant dissent amongst Orthodox clerics. Christianity came to the East in 988 and after the 2014 ‘Revolution of Dignity’ which expelled the pro-Russian president, in 2018 the Archbishop of Constantinople (the Orthodox church still calls it that), Bartholemew I, recognized a distinct, self-governing Orthodox Church in Ukraine. A study of people who identify as Orthodox in Ukraine in 2020 found that 34% identified with the Orthodox Church in Ukraine; 14% with the Moscow Patriarch and 28% as neither. Recently 300 Orthodox Clerics in Belurus, Spain and inside Russia signed a letter condemning Kirill’s tacit support for the invasion, and refusing to mention his name or commemorate the Moscow Patriarchy in their services. The speakers point out that both Russia and Ukraine are multi-cultural countries- Russia, for example has 35 official languages- with sizeable Muslim populations. Ukraine also has a large Jewish minority (and indeed Kyev and Odessa were important Jewish centres historically) and the Ukraine Greek Catholic Church is also prominent. While there are anti-Semitic groups in Ukraine, they also operate throughout Europe and perhaps to a lesser extent in Ukraine than elsewhere. Well worth listening to- even three times!
Things Fell Apart (BBC) Episode 2: Dirty Books goes back to 1974 when a church minister’s wife in West Virginia challenged the board of education when they sent textbooks to support a new curriculum to her school. She read through all the books, and was offended by many things in them and encouraged other parents to join her in refusing them. But she may well have misinterpreted some of the things that offended her so much. Fast forward thirty years, and textbooks are still being challenged- this time for Critical Race Theory (in maths books, no less).
Emperors of Rome It’s Good Friday, so I thought that I would listen to the episode on Crucifixion. Episode CLXXXI Crucifixion, as you might expect, came with a content warning. Crucifixion was a much wider term than we might imagine, because people could be nailed to a stake, tree, plank etc and the ultimate cause of death was asphyxiation when it became too difficult to heave yourself up to breathe. It was a form of death only for slaves and enemies of Rome, not Roman citizens. Owners could crucify their slaves privately, or it could be a state punishment. As well as the gospels, which give a lot of detail, there are other sources as well: Seneca, Cicero, Josephus in written form, archaelogical evidence (e.g. an ankle bone in a Judea that had a nail through it), and graffiti. Crucifixion was formally abolished in 337 CE by Constantine, who felt that no ordinary mortal should die the same way as Jesus had done (not because it was a painful, cruel and slow death).
Australia If You’re Listening (ABC). Episode 2: How we became addicted to coal. I don’t know why I have been so slow to listen to each episode of this podcasts – perhaps because I thought I already knew all about it- but it really is excellent. The historian in me really liked this episode, which focusses on Newcastle, which was Australia’s first coal region. It deals with the coming and going of ‘the’ BHP (how quaint) (1915-1997) and Newcastle’s development into a coal port, even though the local coal was eventually exhausted. The program gives a really good description of the stagnation of the Australian economy as Australia, ‘the lucky country’, drifted into a heavily protected domestic economy that was only saved by the export of raw products like coal, especially to China. Historians featured include John Maynard from the University of Newcastle, and Judith Brett, author of the Quarterly Essay The Coal Curse (which I’m sure I have unopened on my bookshelf somewhere- might be time to open it.)
Travels Through Time In this episode The Last Emperor of Mexico, historian William Shawcross discusses Maximilian I of Mexico, who was appointed as Emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III as part of a French invasion of Mexico. After the Mexican War of Independence between 1810 and 1821 and Spain’s final relinquishment in 1836, there were still a lot of royalists in Mexico. After being wupped by the United States in the Mexican-American war in 1848, these royalists approached Archduke Maximilian of Austria, a stereotypical second son to become emperor of Mexico. In 1863, he consented to do so at the request of Napoleon III. William Shawcross chooses 1867 as his year of interest, starting on 13 February 1867 as Maximilian rides out with his Mexican troops (and not his far more experienced, European troops) to confront the guerrilla fighters led by General Benito Juarez. On May 15 1867, Querétaro. Maximilian is cornered in a shell-shattered former convent, beseiged by the Mexican guerillas, getting ready to break out. By 19 June 1867, it was all over, with Maximilian under arrest in another convent in Querétaro another convent, and -spoiler alert- executed by firing squad.