History of Rome Podcast Episode 138 The New Rome looks at the transformation of Byzantium from a small town with a population in the tens of thousands into the New Rome (‘Constantinople’ was a nickname, and it was only adopted formally later on). Many emperors had based themselves in places other than Rome, and Byzantium had the advantages of water on three sides (and thus difficult to besiege) and no religious baggage of other pagan gods. Just as in the early establishment of Rome, Constantine needed to augment its population, so he welcomed both the poor and the greedy as immigrants. It took six years to build. Quite apart from his building activities, though, Constantine embedded his power by killing off his own son Crispus. It’s not clear why, but his stepmother Fausta seems to have been involved. Then, Constantine executed his wife Fausta by locking her in a steam room. Realizing that killing your wife and son was not a good look, he sent his mother Helena on a tour of the East to identify important Christian sites. This was a very popular pilgrimage. In terms of policy and ideology, Constantine’s reign was an extension of Diocletian’s policies in terms of Divine Right of the emperor, the separation of the military and civil arms of government. Unlike Diocletian, he welcomed the role of the Senate but increased its size from 300 to 2000, thus diluting its power. He introduced a new solid gold coin which maintained its value for centuries, although there was runaway inflation with silver coins. He introduced a new and unpopular tax, payable four years in advance and embarked on an empire-wide building program involving both churches (e.g. The Old St Peters Basilica) and secular buildings. Episode 139 Wash Away Your Sins looks at Constantine’s military activity and succession plans. He continued the policy of Germanization of the empire and the army, and the failure of the Germans to integrate was to be one of the causes of the downfall of the empire. At this stage, his legions were successful against the rebellious tribes of the Rhine and the Danube. After killing off Crispus, he seasoned his remaining three sons by putting them in charge of the army. For some reason, he decided to pick a war with the Sassanids on the pretext of protecting Christians under their rule. But he died in Nicomedia, just after embarking on this battle, and got baptized just before he died. You might have thought that he would have been baptized earlier, but this could be because he wanted to be able to sin until the last minute, or more charitably, because he wanted to be pure as the driven snow when he actually died. His succession plans were messy: he left it to his three sons and two nephews. In assessing Constantine, he was certainly a transformational emperor and one of the most important historical figures in Western history. But he had his darker side too: the assassinations, the messy succession plans etc., so it’s a mixed record. Episode 140: My Three Sons. Well, three sons and two nephews isn’t going to end well. Constantius II started things off with the Massacre of the Princes at his father’s funeral, killing off most of his cousins and uncles from his aunt Theodora’s line over two days. Then the three boys (all named very similarly) Constantius, Constantine II and Constans began fighting among themselves, and getting involved on different sides of the doctrinal battles going on in the Christian church,. In the end Constantine II died in an ambush, leaving just two, Constantius in charge of the East and Constans in charge of the West.
Australia If You’re Listening. Episode 7 The Countdown on Coal Fired Power was a cracker. It starts off with the South Australian tornado in 2016 that saw electricity pylons scattered like pick-up-sticks and which was instantly blamed on renewable energy. In fact, whenever there is a power blackout, politicians in Australia and around the world tend to blame renewables. The reality is that it is the old coal-powered stations that are falling over, with near misses and disasters like the Callied Turbine failure outside of Biloela in Queensland, and the Hazelwood fires that blanketed the La Trobe Valley in smoke in 2014. This was a really good episode.
Conversations (ABC) In A History of War, Richard Fidler (who is such a good interviewer) spoke with historian Gwynne Dyer, who has recently released The Shortest History of War. I was going to give this book a miss because I thought that it would be all about military strategy, but good historian as Dyer is, he takes a much broader approach, integrating history, technology, sociology and psychology. Interesting.
Australian Book Review Frank Bongiorno on enlarging our diminished sense of political leadership looks at the elevation of the political operative and the breakdown of the party system. He points to the Australian of the Year award as an alternative form of political leadership, where in recent years the winners have been ahead of paid politicians. This was recorded prior to the election, and Frank Bongiorno is always worth listening to.