I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-24 April 2022

History of Rome Podcast Episode 126 All the Kings Men deals with Diocletian’s reorganization of the government, something which had not occurred for a long time because of the increasing militarization of society. With the Tetrarchy, it meant that there could be four times more oversight of government activity. The empire now comprised over 100 provinces, and Diocletian was insistent that the governors do more in their own patch, especially in relation to the administration of justice. He introduced the idea of twelve dioceses, each headed by a vicar, in order to implement empire-wide change. He made Italy and Egypt equal to the other provinces in terms of taxation and expenditure, although he did carve out a special place for the city of Rome. Administrators were drawn exclusively from the equestrian class. The Praetorian Prefect was top of the bureaucratic structure, and acted as a type of vice-governor. There was a corresponding change in the status of emperor. He was no longer the First Citizen: there was now The Ruler and The Ruled.

Episode 127 Commanding the Empire. Rome’s economy was in disarray when Diocletian came to power and he initiated major overhauls to get the system running again. He had four main reforms. First, he attempted to stabilize the economy by issuing new standardized coins of copper, silver and gold, but he didn’t recall enough of the old, debased coinage so this didn’t work. Second, he re-organized the tax structure based on the old army method of requisition. He drew up Tables of Equivalency for a ‘unit of tax’, so tax payments could be made in kind, based on what the tax payer had access to. Third, he calcified the professions by insisting on compulsory, hereditary guilds, so that from generation to generation, people had to stay in the same trade. He also stopped migration- and yes, we’re getting into pre-feudal ideas here. Finally, he issued an Edict on Prices where he catalogued everything that could possibly be sold, and set a maximum price for it. Punishment by death awaited those who overcharged, but it ended up being unenforcable. So old Diocletian really is moving the empire onto a more rational, pre-feudal basis and he was one of the most transformative of the emperors. But- there’s always a ‘but….

And here it comes in Episode 128 The Great Persecution.For the first 15 years of Diocletian’s rule, he had instituted great changes across the empire- some resisted, others accepted. But when he wanted an oracle to read his future, he was told that the gods couldn’t get through. Some said that it was because Christians had made the sign of the cross in the imperial palace. So he decided to deal with the increasing Christian movement by insisting that everyone make a sacrifice to Jupiter, and did the same in the army. This was just the start. At this point, Mike Duncan stops and backtracks to give a potted history of Christianity- and he does a pretty good job of doing so, given the eagle eyes of his Christian commenters on his webpage. The early church in the 1st Century CE had to sort out what to do about the Gentiles who wanted to join- whether to go ‘big tent’ or ‘little tent’. ‘Big tent’ won. In 2C CE the original disciples and apostles had all passed away, and the church had become decentralized with bishops who often disagreed with each other. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Christians did not join in the Jewish Wars of 130 CE and although the Romans had deferred to the antiquity of Judaism, this did not extend to the newly-formed Christians. The Christian Church endured the same chaos as everyone else in the tumultuous 3rd Century CE. Emperor Trajan had persecuted Christians in the 2nd Century and Decius did so in too in the 3rd Century. Within the Christian church itself, there was a split between those who acquiesced to Roman pressure and those who resisted. Between the years 260 and 300, the stigma of being Christian became muted, and Christianity began to spread across social groups to about 10% of the population (usually in urban centres, which made it seem even more prominent). By this time it was the largest monotheistic religion in the Empire, and it was accumulating wealth and building dedicated churches. It was becoming a threat to the status quo. In 302-3 the persecution began again. Galerius may have been the driving force (or that might just be anti-Galerius propaganda). In 303 Diocletian let the hardliners off the leash and they razed churches, burned scriptures and tortured and killed Christians who refused to recant. In the summer of 303, bishops and deacons were arrested, and the jails were emptied of regular prisoners to make room for them. However, Roman soldiers themselves often turned a blind eye, and Constantinus wanted nothing to do with it. Citizens were resisting too, because they saw Christians as harmless, taxpaying citizens. The persecution was dropped by 311 when Galerius realized the advantages in doing so, especially with the rise of Constantine the Great. All in all, a bad and bloody policy.

The Documentary (BBC) Understanding the long history between Russia and Ukraine is actually part of the BBC’s ‘The Explanation’ series. Here Claire Graham talks to former BBC foreign correspondent Kevin Connolly about what has historically bound Russia and Ukraine together, and what has pulled them apart. He points out that the Russ empire stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and this is more or less the sphere of interest that Putin is exerting pressure over. He goes back to the Orange Revolution in 2004 with the rather confusing election between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych (it’s sounding like a Fast Forward ‘In Moscow Tonight’ episode) – and, I’d forgotten about this- the opposition leader Yushchenko suffering dioxin poisoning. He reminds us of the mistaken shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine, and the conflict in the Donbass region where the Ukrainian forces took the offensive, both of which highlighted Putin’s impunit,. Putin denied military involvement in Ukraine until Feb 2022… and then we all know what happened next.

The Real Story (BBC) France’s Place in the World was recorded on 12 February, before Putin invaded Ukraine. It features Jacques Rupnik( Research Professor at CERI, Science Po, in Paris); Dominique Moïsi (French political scientist and a special advisor at l’Institut Montaigne, a think tank in Paris) and Catherine Nicholson – (European Affairs Editor for France 24). At this stage, Macron was in Russia, engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Russia and Ukraine. The commentators discussed this diplomatic move (which they all agreed was ‘bold’) by Macron , the youngest French president, who memorably declared that ‘Europe is brain dead’. They pointed out that Macron is operating in a vacuum after the resignation of Merkel and Brexit. They suggest that perhaps Macron is thinking of the Finlandization of Ukraine (although even Finland is rethinking its position at the moment). They discuss France’s anger over AUKUS- disappointment with U.S. but real anger at UK and Australia (we get a mention!)

Then, just before the French elections this weekend, I listed to The Appeal of the French far-right, featuring Nonna Mayer – (A CNRS Research Director Emerita at the Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics, Sciences Po), Jean-Yves Camus – (Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) and Christine Ockrent – (Journalist and broadcaster). When asked when they first became aware of the French far-right, two answered that became interested in 2002 when Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round of voting; the other identified 1984 when Jean-Marie Le Pen became one of the first MPs to the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen started off as a moderate, and expelled many of the old fascists attached to her father’s National Front. They suggest that the core of her program hasn’t changed, but she has turned arguments about laicite (i.e. secularity), women’s rights, gay rights, Jewish rights, against the left by arguing that by restricting Muslim immigration will defend these rights. She wants to change the constitution by referendum (which is illegal). The yellow vests, they suggest, emerged from a real anger about purchase power and the need to be heard. Le Pen is not necessarily pro-Russian, but does believe that ‘traditional values’ apply there, although her beliefs are more closely aligned with Hungary and Poland. (Not a reassuring thought). One of the commentators commented on the gender aspect of this presidential run-off-something I hadn’t thought much about.

Archive on 4 (BBC) I’ve been very much aware of the strong visuals coming from the war in Ukraine. Not only is President Zelensky very much aware of packaging himself and his message individually for each country that he is addressing, but we have so much video footage as well. But wariness over disinformation is now so deep-seated that I find myself wondering whether I am looking at fakes or not, and the steady stream of Russian denials of things that are patently obvious makes things even more unsettling. War on Truth looks at the disinformation being purveyed through Russian television, and speaks to bloggers and influencers, mainly from the Ukrainian side, and the pile-on that has followed videos and postings showing life in Ukraine today. It unpacks the story of the pregnant woman filmed after the bombing of the maternity hospital, and the way that both sides are packaging ‘content’ to be picked up and broadcast further.

Nothing on TV Truth be told, there hasn’t been much action on the ‘Nothing on TV’ podcast either, with the episode Tin-kettling recorded in June 2019 (although at least history podcasts don’t date). Once she started looking into it, Robyn Annear found many, many references to tin-kettling. Tin-kettling in Europe sprang from the tradition of charivari, which was a way of expressing moral disapproval of things like wife-beating or marrying too soon after the death of a spouse. In Australia, it seems to have been a more raucous, alcohol-fuelled event, often linked with weddings although the protagonists often ended up in court. It seemed to have been particularly prevalent in areas where Cornish miners had settled, and the ‘tin kettle’ and saucepan were soon replaced with kerosene tins filled with rocks. By the twentieth century, it seems to have been tamed somewhat into some good natured fun.

Australia If You’re Listening. (ABC) In Episode 3 How Long Will the World Want our Coal? Matt Bevan turns to look at India, and its demand for coal and the involvement of the big mining companies here in meeting that demand. In particular it looks at the Galilee Basin, and Adani and the arguments that the fossil-fuel lobby mounts in trying to protect its product and extort more assistance from state and commonwealth governments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s