Category Archives: Podcasts 2022

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-30 April 2022

History of Rome Podcast. Episode 129 Abdication. Well, Diocletian had done all that he wanted to do and now all he had to do was work out a transition plan, so that there would be a stable tetrarchy in place to cover the whole of the Roman Empire. Really, although it was called a tetrarchy, it was really two Caesars (junior emperors) and two Augusti, one of whom took the lead- in this case, Diocletian. In Diocletian’s plan, each Augustus would rule for twenty years, then abdicate, the two junior emperors would move up to be Augusti and two new junior emperors would take their place. Simple, eh? Problem was, if he was going to keep the 2X2 structure, he would have to persuade Maximian to retire at the same time, which he managed to do. Galerius and Constantius stepped up, but who was to take their place as junior emperors? Episode 130 Lost in Transition Everyone expected that Constantine and Maxentius, as sons of reigning emperors would be placed in the vacancies, but Diocletian wanted to break the idea of hereditary emperors. So he looked elsewhere. Instead of the hereditary sons, Severus and Maximinus Daza were declared junior emperors. Then Maxentius (the son of Maximian) revolted; Maximian arranged for Severus to be killed; Galerius had to slink out of Italy, and Constantine was lurking up in the north. This is all very confusing- all these Maxes – the names are too similar. Anyway, it’s a stuff-up. Episode 131 The New Game in Town. When Severus was killed, Galerius arranged for his friend Licinius to be appointed and catapulted him up to be Augustus without serving the requisite time as Caesar. Old Man Maximian argued with his son Maxentius, and ended up seeking refuge with his son-in-law Constantine. It was such a mess that they even asked Diocletian to come back, but he said that he was happy tending his cabbages. But then Maximian mounted a come-back against Constantine, who defeated him and was very angry, exhorting him to ‘do the right thing’ and kill himself- which he did. Even though Maxentius and his father weren’t talking, Maxentius vowed to avenge his father’s honour. Then Galerius got sick and smelly and died. This is just getting silly now.

Rear Vision (ABC) The Greens- politics and the environment. I was really impressed by Adam Bandt’s address to the Press Club, and I’m uneasy about the talking-out-of-both-sides-of-your-mouth about the fossil-fuel industry from the ALP. This is the history of the Greens, starting from its roots in the Nuclear Disarmament Party. It put up two candidates for the Senate: Peter Garrett (who was expected to win) and Jo Valentine (who wasn’t). But it didn’t turn out that way, and when Valentine won she distanced herself from the NDP who wanted to tell her how to vote. In the 1970s, Greens parties arose across the world, especially in Europe, and there was an international network of Greens parties. Up until now, the Greens were state-based parties but in 1992 the Federal Green party was formed, after it had sorted out some thorny constitutional problems. It adopted consensus decision making (which was found to be very unwieldy) , the right of a conscience vote for MPs and proscription (i.e. members couldn’t belong to another party). The state parties continued, each with a different flavour. In NSW there were links with the BLF and the socialist parties and an emphasis on environmentalism and conservation; in Tasmania it was about wilderness, damming the Franklin and opposing the Wesley Vale pulp mill, and WA kept its anti-nuclear movement links. Milne rejected Rudd’s climate policy because it locked-in failure: a big judgment call that has embittered many ever since. When the Greens supported Gillard’s minority government, they provided stable support in Senate which contributed to the heavy slate of legislation that the government actually passed.

Australia If You’re Listening (ABC) Episode 4: the decade when climate change became a culture war. This episode picks up on Judith Brett’s contention in The Coal Curse that the mining industry and its lobbyists cut their teeth on the indigenous land rights issue. Hugh Morgan, former CEO of Western Mining Corporation seeded right-wing think tanks like the IPA which, after de-fanging land rights legislation then turned their attention to casting doubt on climate change. When Al Gore came out so strongly for climate change in An Inconvenient Truth, the link was made between Democratic/Labor/Progressive politics and calls for action- and the converse Liberal/Republican/Conservative calls for skepticism.

Things Fell Apart. A Miracle. Tammy Faye Bakker was a wildly successful tele-evangelist, who along with her husband Jim ran the Praise the Lord Ministry. In 1985 she conducted an interview on her ‘Tammy’s House Party’ program with Steve Peters, a man gravely ill with AIDS. Although Tammy Faye’s questions were clumsy and bordering on offensive, for many evangelical Christians it was the first time that they had been exposed to the human face of AIDS. In a twist of fate, after the fall of the PTL empire, Tammy Faye became a gay icon.

War on Truth (BBC). My Son is the Snake Island Hero has an interview with Tetyana, the mother of the Russian soldier who told the Russian warship Moskva to go fuck itself (an interesting visual image). At first she was told that all the Ukrainian soldiers had died, but the Russians accused Ukraine of misinformation as they were, indeed, alive and part of a prisoner swap. Then the Moskva itself sank – Russian say because of fire; Ukrainians say because of attack. The Snake Island soldiers are now depicted on a stamp.

The Explanation (BBC) Understanding the rise of Boko Haram. The journalist Mayeni Jones explains that Nigeria is geographically and politically divided into two parts. The South is wealthy, Christian and humid: the North is poor, arid and Muslim. From 1960s with the granting of independence through to 1999 Nigeria was led by a military dictatorship, but the corruption continued under democratic government. In July 2009 Boko Haram burst onto the scene. Led by Muhummed Yusuf, ‘Boko Haram’, literally means ‘Western Education is forbidden. He was arrested and killed by the police, which just made him a martyr. He was replaced by Abubakr Shekau in 2010, and Boko Haram executed a car bombing inside the UN compound. The first school kidnapping was almost by chance. They were actually looking for a brick making machine, and the girls were there and they took them. In 2021 Abubakr Shekau blew himself up when surrounded by West African Islamic State fighters. Whether it is Al-Qaeda IS or any other terrorist group, there is a huge disaffected young population in Nigeria to draw upon, and the structural problems remain.

Revolutions Podcast Having listened to Mike Duncan talking about the History of Rome (see above), it felt strange to tune back into his Revolutions Podcast, where he’s up to episode 95 of the Russian Revolution. I have no intention of listening to the rest of them (although I did start, years ago), but Episode 95: Russian Empire, Soviet Empire is interesting in light of the Ukraine situation today. He looks at the year 1921, when Russia saw its western regions peeling off into independent (although still heavily influenced) countries like Lithuania, Finland, Ukraine etc. The trade treaty that Russia signed with Great Britain in 1921 conferred de-facto recognition, although US held out until 1933 before recognizing the Soviet Union. Meanwhile Trotsky suggested that because it was clear that the revolution wasn’t going to spread throughout Europe, the Soviet Union turn to Eur-Asia and foment revolution as an attack on colonialism. He goes through the -stans, and Russian involvement, and interestingly spends quite some time on Georgia, where the Mensheviks had been very strong. (I watched a Foreign Correspondent program last night about how, since the Ukrainian invasion, many Russian dissidents have gone to Georgia where the people have no great love for Russia, although their government in ambivalent). As Duncan says, 1921 is almost a potted summary of the whole revolution (and it saves you listening to the 94 preceding episodes)

Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent

Start the Week (BBC) An interesting episode in The Age of the Strongman Leader, featuring Gideon Rachman, author of The Age of the Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy Around the World, Judy Dempsey who has written a lot on Angela Merkel, and Christopher de Bellaigue, author of The Lion House: The Coming of a King about Suleiman the Magnificent. This last title might seem a bit out of place, but this discussion talks about the phenomenon of the ‘strongman’ across history. One of them (Rachman?- the two male voices were similar) identified four qualities of the strongman 1. Cult of personality 2. Nostalgic nationalism, looking backwards 3. Contempt for the rule of law (although at first, they might have championed the rule of law to obtain power, but then subverted it) 4. Gender- mainly men. Merkel doesn’t fit this pattern, but other powerful women in politics are often the wives or daughters of strongmen. The modern strongmen they discuss use the democratic system, but then subvert it by encouraging polarization. The use of history by these strongmen is selective- for example, in December 2021 Putin’s courts put an end to the Memorial Project which documented the atrocities of the Stalin era. They also spoke about the strongmens’ need for large rallies – and no doubt May 9 will be such an occasion for Putin this year.

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.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 9-16 April 2022

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.

Patriarch Kirill (Wikimedia)

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.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1 April-8 April

Axios – How it Happened More Ukraine. Putins Invasion III: How It Could End. In part three, Axios World editor Dave Lawler examines a difficult reality — that the only clear path to peace in Ukraine is a deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but the red lines drawn by the Russian and Ukrainian leaders do not intersect. This episode features interviews with Zelensky’s chief of staff, a member of Parliament in his party, two close observers of Putin and the Kremlin, and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine with decades of diplomatic experience in the region. The interviewees point out that Zelensky is very ideological, a good listener, but that you can’t pressure him. They point out that legally, Ukraine’s borders can only be altered via referendum (and the Ukranian people are not likely to vote for that). Putin cannot win, but Zelensky will not accept Putin’s terms. Putin’s best hope is to exhaust Ukraine and the interest of the west. Something, they all agree, will have to change.

History of Rome Podcast Episode 121 Phase Three Complete sees the mop-up before Diocletian comes on the scene. Mike Duncan starts off this episode, reflecting that people who were born during the Severin epoch had only know the chaos of the 3rd century when emperors came and went in regular succession. They didn’t realize that they were just about to turn the corner. We don’t really know much about Carus and his two sons Carinus and Numerian. Carus was about 60 years old, and he had been a Praetorian Prefect. Realizing that he couldn’t spread himself across the empire, he sent his son Carinus to Rome and he headed to Persia to fight the Sassanids with his other son, Numerian. It was a good time to attack Persia because the Persians had just committed most of their troops to invading Afghanistan. Carus died: struck by lightning, they said, as a punishment for straying too far outside of the empire. His son Numerian, spooked perhaps by this theory, withdrew back to the borders, even though they were beating the Persians. His sons had a brief reign until Diocles came on the scene. Apparently he was a real back-room operator. There had been a prophesy that Diocles would only become emperor when he killed a boar, and this came true when he executed the Praetorian Prefect Aper for murdering Carus’ son Numerian. ‘Aper’ means ‘wild boar’, although historians dispute this story as being ridiculous. But hey- lots of things here are ridiculous. Diocles changed his name to the more regal-sounding Diocletian and began bad-mouthing Carinus. He was about to battle Carinus, but Carinus (conveniently) died. Episode 122 Jupiter and Hercules As a back-room political operator, Diocletian had actually thought about the empire, instead of having it thrust upon him. He decided that there would be no Senatorial purges, but he also decided that he would side-line the Senate altogether. He decided that there had to be two Emperors, so he appointed Maximian to rule over the West as co-emperor with Diocletian who would rule the East. Maximian was a soldier, and so not a political threat to Diocletian. However General Carausius, who had been appointed in charge of operations against pirates on the Saxon coast, went rogue, proclaimed himself Augustus and set himself up in Britain. Diocletian came across to the West to bolster Maximian’s troops. To boost their authority, Maximian also took up the title of Augustus, and then Diocletian appealed to the heavens for legitimacy (much as Augustus had done), thus laying the foundation for Divine Right for the next 1500 years. He claimed that he had been appointed by Jupiter himself, and Diocletian assumed the title Iovius, and Maximian assumed the title Herculius.

The History Hour (BBC) usually has a couple of stories on different topics but in this episode Ukranian History Special, they concentrate on events in Ukraine’s history. It is really good. It starts with the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in April 1986 and the tardiness of the government response. It moves on to the Budapest agreement where the international community – including both Russia and the USA – offered security “assurances” to Ukraine in return for giving up its share of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Then there is a survivor’s account of Ukraine’s great famine in the 1930s, the Holodomor, when several million people died (although she was very young- about 3. I’m not too sure about the fidelity of the memories of a three year old). It moves to the mass killing of Ukrainian Jews by Nazi Germany during World War Two- noting the irony that Putin has used ‘anti-Nazi’ as a justification for invasion. Finally, in an abrupt change of pace, the episode finishes with how Artek, on the shores of the Black Sea in Crimea, became the Soviet Union’s most popular holiday camp. Really worth listening to.

In Our Time (BBC). I thought that In Our Time must have finished, because I couldn’t find it on Stitcher but then I discovered that you can access it through BBC Sounds. Old Melvyn Bragg is sounding older and more slurred. I’ve never read any Walter Benjamin (and in fact, for half the podcast I had him mixed up with Isaiah Berlin). He was an academic, but he styled himself as a critic of what was then the modern media. Born in Germany, from the late 1920s he led a mobile life living in Russia, Italy and France. He was not interested in writing about the past as it was, but seeing it in terms of the questions of the present. Notably, in his Arcades Project, he looked into the past of Paris to understand the modern age and, in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, examined how the new media of film and photography enabled art to be politicised, and politics to become a form of art. As a German Jew, he was fearful of the rise of Hitler and was interned in Paris and although, because of his eminence he had an entry visa to America, but he could not get an exit visit. Although in very poor health, he decided to walk from France to Spain but, in very poor health and realizing he wouldn’t make it, he committed suicide on the way. Most of his work was published posthumously and taken up by the 1960s counter culture. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction greatly influenced John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and is even more apposite given the rise of digital cameras everywhere in galleries and museums and NFTs.

History of Ideas- Talking Politics. I started listening to this ages ago and just stumbled over it again on my ‘Favourites’ list. David Runciman, a professor of politics at Cambridge (and not, as I thought, the Archbishop of Canterbury) goes through the major political works starting with Hobbes. I listened to Hobbes and Wollstonecraft but then skipped a few because I was interested in Marx and Engels on Revolution. This was the best description of Marx and Engels’ ideas that I’ve heard. He points out that where Hobbes saw revolution as the problem, Marx and Engels saw it as the solution. The ideas of revolution in The Communist Manifesto were not taken up at all in 1848 (although they wrote it in a hurry because they hoped that they would be), and their ideas in their death throes during WWI when it turned out that the workers of the world did not unite but instead fought each other. However the Russian Revolution in 1917 vindicated them, and the fortunes of the book have waxed and waned ever since. They point out that the state will always be in crisis, and that in replacing the people who run the state, there will inevitably be violence. Revolution has to be international, and that has not happened (and in current events, is not likely to do so). Runciman considers that the most successful revolutions were in East Germany and Eastern Europe in 1989 and the 90s. He points out that both 1848 and the Arab Spring were short term failures, but they did have an impact on democracy later (I think that the Arab Spring has yet to show results). He questions whether class today is as important as Marx and Engels thought, suggesting that education level (albeit related to class) and age (youth) are more important on voting patterns.

Things Fell Apart (BBC) This is a terrific series about the culture wars, and things that make you scream at the television. One Thousand Dolls is about the beginning of the culture wars over abortion in America. Until the 1970s, anti-abortion was a Roman Catholic thing, but Frank Schaeffer, the son of an influential Christian art historian, talked his father into adding an anti-abortion segment into his art history films. Although poorly received, he decided to make a highly emotive Christian film against abortion, and it came to influence many anti-abortions including James Kopp, who murdered Barnett Slepian, an American physician from Amherst, New York who performed abortions. He has since distanced himself from the anti-abortion movement. Really interesting.

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.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-24 March 2021

Emperors of Rome. At this stage, the ‘Emperors of Rome’ podcast and the ‘History of Rome’ podcast part ways. Episode CLXIX – Gallus sees Trebonianus Gallus appointed by his troops in June 251 after Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus died during a battle with the Goths. Decius’ son remaining son Hostilianus died of the Cyprian Plague, which was ravaging the Empire. (Kyle Harper has written about this plague in The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire, which sounds quite interesting). During Gallus’ two year reign, there were uprisings East and West. Aemilian, the governor of Moesia Superior and Pannonia, defeated the Goths and was declared emperor by his troops. Somehow or other Gallus ended up dead, but Aemiliain lasted only 88 days before he was murdered by his own forces. Valerian became emperor and ruled for 15 years, ending a phase of short-lived emperors.

History of Rome. 116- Here Come the Illyrians sees the start of a string of Illyrian emperors. Some people mark this as the end of the ‘real’ Roman Empire, but Mike Duncan asserts that they saved the empire. Claudius Gothicus had no aristocratic links at all. He had been Gallienus’ trusted general. Maybe he wasn’t actually involved in the assassination of Gallienus, but he probably would have known about it. Nonetheless he exiled or executed the ringleaders to ‘prove’ his clean hands. He was worried about the East and the rise of Zenobia, but he had to deal with the Goths first. He oversaw a change in policy of treatment of defeated enemies, which allowed the Goths to settle on land, as long as they provided men for the army. Claudius also defeated uprisings in Germany, and then turned to the Vandals. An emperor’s work is never done. The future Emperor Aurelian was 2nd in charge when Claudius died of the plague in 270 AD. In Episode 117- Aurelian’s Walls, Mike Duncan raises the question: when you say that someone is ‘the greatest’ do you mean that they were the greatest at their peak, or do you look at their whole career? Duncan reckons that Aurelian was ‘peak emperor’ between 270 and 275, when he consolidated power in Italy, then went off to battle the Vandals. He employed the tactic of withdrawing all resources into a village, and then defending that village. When he defeated tribes, he insisted on a quota of soldiers, which eventuated in the Germanization of the Legions.

Despite his victory on the field, when he returned in triumph to Rome, he was faced with riots because people were unnerved by earlier defeats under Aurelian’s leadership; bread prices were high, and there was corruption over the mint. The old tactic of garrisoning the frontiers employed by Augustus and Hadrian no longer worked, because the invasions were bigger and it was the emperor (rather than a general) who was rushing around at the head of the army. Cities were vulnerable and needed their own walls, so Aurelian ordered a big wall around Rome (as the old 4th BCE wall was no longer sufficient. It was constructed rapidly, using existing buildings where possible, and using civilian rather than military labour. Nonetheless, the walls took 5 years to complete.

The Daily (New York Times) Ukraine Puts Putin’s Playbook to the Test (March 24, 2022) features NY Times journalist Carlotta Gall, who covered the Chechen conflict 30 years ago. She believes that there are real similarities between the two, so much so that when she hears Ukranian citizens vowing to remain, she wants to warn them just how dire it will become in the face of Russia’s ruthlessness. However, factors in Ukraine’s favour are: first, that it is much bigger than Chechnya with a population of 40 million as opposed to 1 million; second that it is already an independent country; third that it has Western recognition and finally that there is an adjoining country that fighters can withdraw to when the going gets too tough. But she reckons that if Putin follows the same strategy, it will get tough.

Australia If You’re Listening (ABC) Even though I’m a big Matt Bevan fan, I didn’t really particularly fancy this season about Australia’s politics of climate change. But when the first episode was inserted into the Coronacast podcast, I started listening (which just goes to show how hijacking an episode of a program can work). Episode 1 The legacy of our first decisions on climate change points out that warming of the environment through burning coal was first publicized in 1912. The tenor for Australia’s approach was set by none other than Labor minister Roz Kelly, who promised that Australia would not move faster than any other developed country – and we haven’t. The program looks at a big conference held in 1987 where, for the first time, scientists discussed climate change, then moves onto Kyoto and the significance of the ‘Australian clause’ over land-clearing. Interestingly, Roz Kelly defends Robert Hill, the Lib/NP Minister for the Environment who led Australia’s delegation to Kyoto- lauded by John Howard as a great result for Australia. Humpf.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 9-16 March 2022

The Daily (New York Times) I’m doing a fair bit of listening about Ukraine at the moment. In Four Paths Forward in Ukraine (March 17) David Sanger, White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times, explores four scenarios: 1. The diplomatic path- Ukraine agrees to Russian demands to give up any claim on Crimea; accepts independence of Donetsk and Luhansk; declarse its neutrality; and promises never to join NATO. Russia would demand that all sanctions be lifted. Scenario 2: A long war of attrition, with Russia ‘winning’ but an ongoing Ukranian insurgency (which Sanger thinks is likely). Third scenario: China helps Russia. Sanger thinks that China will just sit back and watch how things play out for now. They might assist, but from behind the scenes. Scenario 4: Putin decides to expand the conflict beyond Ukraine.

Axios – How it Happened. This series on Ukraine just has two episodes so far. Episode 1 Putin’s Invasion Part I: How We Got Here features Axios’ world editor Dave Lawler talking about how Putin came to power and how he has wielded that power. The podcast also features “our Aussie” Jonathan Swan, speaking about his exclusive Axios on HBO interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump, Zelensky- is there anyone he hasn’t interviewed? Episode 2 Putin’s Invasion Part II: The Consequences discusses President Biden’s decades of political experience with Russia and the sanctions the U.S. and Europe have brought against the country. It also explains why it’s so hard for the West to cut ties with Russia when it comes to energy, and why the Biden administration chose to do so even if it would send gas prices soaring.

History of Rome Podcast. Episode 113- Three Empires. Although the Roman Empire now split into three, Mike Duncan argues that all three empires remained culturally Roman, and that’s what’s important. Following the capture of Valerian in 260 AD, the western provinces broke away to form a separate Empire and the east became controlled by the city of Palmyra where Odaenathus was the last stop on the Silk Road. He defeated the Sassanids, and so he was mollycoddled a bit by the Romans who, deep down, thought he was a bit of a barbarian. Meanwhile Postumus was up on the Danube. At this time, local troops threw their support behind their own commander as Emperor, and when he had a stunning victory, Postumus was acclaimed emperor of Gaul, Germania, Britannia and Hispania in what was known as the Gallic Empire. Meanwhile Gallienus concentrated on the centre of the empire. He hit on the idea of the mobile cavalry as a way of reinforcing his authority, and it was a good psychological connection with the provinces to have the cavalry come by occasionally. In Episode 114 The Nadir of our Fortunes, Mike Duncan reminds us of the mess that the Empire was in, with the Sassanids in the East, the Goths on the Danube, the Alamanni in Italy and the Franks in the West. He then backtracks to Odaenathus over in the East, who was seen as a bit of a saviour when Macrinus and his son were killed, and he took over. Over in the west, Postumus was chosen by his own troops, and he happily embraced Aureolus, Gallienus’ top general, when he defected to Postumus. Gallienus had concentrated his efforts on Rome, but the senators hated him because he turned to military men instead of Senators- so he ended up with a bad rap from the historical sources. He founded four mints near the big military deployments so that the soldiers could be paid on time, but this just caused inflation and debasement of the currency. In the end Gallienus defeated Aureolus in battle, but then he was shot (probably assassinated). Episode 115 Phase Two Complete sees the almost simultaneous deaths of Gallienus, Odenathus and Postumus in the Late 260s. The Goths were coming south and Odenathus was assassinated by his nephew -(why? Personal reasons? or was his wife Zenobia behind it?) Zenobia stepped right in to the role of emperor of the east, assuming that she had the right as Odeanthus’ widow. The Goths sailed down and sacked Athens. When Gallienus left Rome to fight the Goths, his trusted general Aureolus mounted a revolt. Gallienus was assassinated in a conspiracy of his top officers. The troops rallied around Claudius, who demanded the head of Aureolus.

Emily Greene Balch. I prepared a presentation for my Unitarian fellowship on the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and the connection with the Australian Church’s Sisterhood of International Peace. Emily Greene Balch was raised a Unitarian in America (although she later joined the Quakers) and, along with Jane Addams, was a founding member of WILPF. This podcast, from the Internet Archive, is of Kristen E. Gwinn talking about Balch at First Church of Jamaica Plains (which Balch and her family attended). A pretty formidable woman. She was one of the pacifists who was really challenged by the rise of Fascism, and ended up siding with ‘freedom’ over ‘peace’.

Now and Then I’ve been listening to American historian Heather Cox Richardson for quite a while, and she has started a podcast with fellow historian Joanne Freeman called ‘Now and Then’. As you might expect from two American historians, it is VERY American focussed, but in the episode Avatars of Democracy, they express their admiration for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. They then look at three other historical leaders who fought for democracy: the French-born Revolutionary War hero Lafayette, the Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar, and South African political prisoner and president Nelson Mandela.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 March 2022

The Coming Storm (BBC) I enjoyed this so much that I binge-listened to the final four episodes. Episode 5 Blowback starts with the US attempts to shore up Boris Yeltsin through the use of rock music (what a weird idea that was). Decades later, British spy Christopher Steele, who was hired to dig up dirt on Donald Trump, claimed that the Russians held ‘pee tapes’ that they would use as blackmail. Half of America believed that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton; the other half believed that the investigations into Russian collusion are a hoax, as a way of unseating a democratically elected president. Q-Anon and General Michael Flynn, took up this second narrative. Episode 6 The Usual Suspects goes to a pro-Trump rally after the 2020 election where Michael Flynn whips up the crowd, urging people to join school boards etc. to refute the big lie and take over the country from the bottom up. (Actually, Heather Cox Richardson said that the Republicans have been using this approach from Phyllis Schlafly onwards). Episode 7 Welcome to the Future takes us back to the first scenes of the series, where he was contemplating the 16th century panic about witches. On attending a Rock the Red event in mid-2021 he wonders if the ‘satanic panic’ of the QAnon conspiracy is a parable for the takeover by a minority elite, or is it an epochal shift? He believes that QAnon is being weaponized, and it is a beginning of something new. Episode 8 Epilogue was an afterthought: the series was supposed to finish at Episode 7 but he returns to ‘The Sovereign Individual’, the book written by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg (father of the MP), a book that responds to our desire to link everything together. It is a favourite of the tech billionaires of Silicon Valley, who think a new version of the web, based on cryptocurrency and blockchain, will bring about the next step in the societal shift driven by the internet. Take, for example, Peter Thiele, the founder of Paypal who is buying up New Zealand, and who has vowed to be back in the game for the 2022 mid-term elections. What does this mean for democracy?

The History Listen (ABC) To celebrate International Women’s Day, Steely Women celebrates the decades-long fight for women to be employed by BHP, and then to receive equal pay. It was Australia’s longest anti-discrimination case.

Deeply Human Accents starts off with an attempt at an Australianism – the increasing rapid repetition of ‘Rise Up Lights’ to end up with ‘Razor Blades’. (Personally, I don’t think it does, really). Apparently the language patterns of the future are already in evidence amongst 15, 16 and 17 year olds (what a depressing thought) with the shifting of vowels. The program then goes on to look at a case in the America courts where the Afro-American accused may have said “You know I committed that crime” or maybe “You know I ain committed that crime.” How much hangs on an “ain”.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 24-28 February

I always forget that February is a short month!

The Daily (New York Times). The episode ‘A Knife to the Throat: Putin’s Logic for Invading Ukraine’ is really excellent. A specialist who speaks Russian goes through Putin’s speech on 23 February where he explained his rationale for ‘de-communizing’ Ukraine as a way of assuring Russia’s security. There’s a transcript if you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing. Really good. Check it out.

History of Rome podcast Episode 111- Phase One Complete. After the Battle of Abrittus, with two dead emperors (Decius and his son) killed in battle, Trebonianus Gallus knew that the last thing Rome needed was another civil war, so he agreed to share power with Decius’s youngest son Hostilianus. It was a rotten time to become Emperor, with the Persians fomenting war in the East again, and with about twenty years of plague (what a discouraging thought). The plague probably carried off Hostilianus because he disappears from the historical record, and the plague and its effect on agriculture destroyed the economy. The Moesian troops became dissatisfied with Gallus, and proclaimed Aemilianus emperor instead, who lasted less than a month on the throne before being ousted by Valerian. Episode 112 Captured Alive continues this messy 3rd century. In the 18 years since Antonius Severus was killed, there had been 11 emperors. Valerian brought 15 years of relative stability, but only in the central areas of Rome, Greece and the Balkan – not out in the provinces. Valerian went to Syria, while his son Gallienus (who he had promptly made caesar) went north. In this way, the defence of the empire was divided again – although this was probably the only way it survived. There was peace while the emperor was present, but as soon as he left, skirmishes would commence again. Valerian left Syria to go to the Rhine where the Franks, a Germanic tribe, were uprising and on the way back he was captured by Shapur the king of Persia. There are lots of stories about his captivity: some that he lived quite peacefully, others that the king used him as a footstool or flayed him alive. We don’t know. Either way, the Emperor was captured and everything was in turmoil.

The Real Story (BBC) The title of this podcast Why is China Supporting Russia on NATO? may have been overtaken somewhat by events, because I’m not completely sure that China is supporting recent events in Ukraine. Nonetheless, this interesting podcast goes through the history of Russia/China relations since the 1950s, when the two Communist countries saw each other as brothers. However, it was a very personal relationship between leaders, and Mao Tse-tung was only prepared to defer to Stalin, and not his successors. In 1970 Richard Nixon executed a triangulation move of the US and China against the Soviet Union, which changed the balance. In 2001 a new Sino-Russia pact was signed, and then in February of this year we saw a new Putin/Xi statement issued during the 2022 Winter Olympics. It was suggested that the pact was not person-to-person, but an agreement to strategic military co-operation as pushback against the United States, and as a way of freeing up troops on their shared borders so that they could be deployed elsewhere. It was pointed out that Russia sees itself as European. China has extensive economic ties with Europe, but Russia would be able to fall back on China for exports. However, it was an agreement, not a pact, and they would be able to stand aside militarily from each other’s conflict, with no commitment to become involved (which perhaps we might be seeing in the Ukraine) The panel comprised Sergey Radchenko – (Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962-1967) Bonny Lin –( A senior fellow for Asian security and director of The China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Robert Daly – A former US diplomat in Beijing, now director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center in Washington DC.

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.