Emperors of Rome. Actually, I have already listened to a lot of these episode back in December 2021 but that’s a lifetime ago and repetition does me no harm at my age. Episode LXVII – Heir and a Spare looks at Hadrian’s succession plan, with his choice of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his adopted sons and heirs. Why two? Given that people around the emperor tended to die, perhaps he was being cautious; or maybe he intended them to rule as joint emperors- who knows. They were not actual brothers. Marcus Aurelius was vaguely related to Hadrian through the female line, and there was a Spanish connection. In fact Marcus’ grandfather, who brought him up, was a good friend of Hadrian. Marcus was close to Hadrian even before he was adopted, and he was the ancient version of a geeky student, and a bit ascetic (which Hadrian wasn’t too keen on). One way or another, he was marked out from the start. Lucius Verus was the son of Lucius Aelius Caesar, whom Hadrian had picked out to be his successor, but he inconveniently died. So Hadrian went for his son instead. He was ten years Marcus’ junior, so perhaps Hadrian thought that if Marcus died, Lucius would the next one in line. Hadrian thought that both boys were too young at this stage to be his direct heirs, so he appointed Antoninus Pius instead, on condition that he adopt the boys too, and appoint them his heirs. He no doubt thought than Antoninus would only last a few years until the boys were old enough, but then he hung on for 23 years, giving the boys a very long apprenticeship. A bit like Prince Charles. Actually, there’s another parallel with the British Royal Family too, because even though the boys were technically equal, as the older and more responsible, Marcus Aurelius was given more responsibility from the start and had more authority than his rather Playboy Brother. (Charles and Andrew? William and Harry?) Once they finally became co-emperors in CE 161, they immediately gave the soldiers a bonus equivalent to 3 years pay to keep them on-side. The arrangement worked better than might be expected, because neither wanted to pull rank on the other. Episode LXVIII – Never Underestimate the Parthians takes us right back into a war. When Marcus and Lucius inherited, the Roman Empire had been at peace for 40 years, but at the end of Antoninus’ rule, there was already trouble brewing with the Parthians. Almost immediately they flexed their muscles by invading Armenia to overthrow the client king that the Romans had installed there. The Governor of Cappadocia, Severianus got dud advice from a self-proclaimed prophet and was badly beaten by the Parthians. Lucius Verus was sent to take control of the situation, but he took the scenic route and didn’t get there for a year and then he hung around Syria with “low people” and sent Statius Priscus to the frontline instead. Priscus had an early victory and captured the Armenian capital and a new King was installed. Meanwhile, the Parthians turned their attention to Mesopotamia instead, where they were again defeated, and the Romans invaded Parthia, where Lucius was blamed for the sacking of Seleucia (although he wasn’t there) after its Greek-oriented inhabitants had welcomed the arrival of the Romans. No sooner were the Parthians taken care of than the Marcomanni started niggling up in Germania. Episode LXIX – Galen and the Antonine Plague features Dr Leanne McNamara (Classics, La Trobe University). While Lucius’ troops were sacking Parthia, it was said that they made the mistake of opening a casket in a temple to Apollo, releasing an illness that would follow the troops all the way back to Rome and beyond. There had been plagues and epidemics previously, but this was longer-lasting and with a wider reach than any other plaque before. It was transmitted by personal contact and airborne particles. There are different hypotheses for what it was – perhaps hemorrhagic smallpox? bubonic plague? measles?- but it had scabs, a rash and a cough. It is thought that about 10% of those who contracted it died. We know as much as we do about it because of the writings of Galen, a doctor who treated the emperors, who penned over 400 books in his life, of which about 20,000 pages remain.
Now and Then. During the lockdown, I listened religiously to Heather Cox Richardson, but I’ve got out of the way of it since she stopped her ‘history only’ videos/podcasts. But, having read glowing reports of Joe Biden at the White House Correspondents Dinner, I thought I’d listen to Not a Joke: Humour as Politics. Heather Cox Richardson actually attended it this year, along with 2600 other people. What a strange form of democracy: that people would mock politicians to their face. Even though Australians don’t take politics particularly seriously (or at least, we didn’t in the past), there’s nothing quite like it here, although the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery Midwinter Ball is perhaps close. The White House Correspondents Dinner started in 1921. In terms of comedians, Heather and her colleague Joanne Freeman discuss Seba Smith (1792-1868) and his iconic Jack Downing character, Alice Duer Miller’s (1874 – 1942) poetic suffragist satire (both of which published their satire in newspapers rather than perform it on stage) and African-American Dick Gregory’s (1932-2017) truth-telling on issues of race and class which fits in more to the political stand-up comedian we’re familiar with today.
Nightlife (ABC) and The Religious and Ethics Report (ABC) I’ve just finished reading Elle Hardy’s book Beyond Belief How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over the World and so I thought that I’d seek out a few interviews with her. The Nightlife episode The Rise and Rise of Pentacostalism was conducted by a presenter who obviously has little knowledge about religion generally. The Religious and Ethics Report episode Pentecostal Christianity and the Hillsong Empire, presented by Andrew West, had more teeth to it, which you might expect given the focus of the program. She was rather deferential here, acknowledging the effect of Pentecostal religion in helping people to get their lives together, and emphasizing that it is not a cult.
The Underworld Podcast also featured Elle Hardy, but she didn’t present such a glowing view here (again, reflecting the focus of this program, too). In the Episode A Brazilian Murder, Narco Evangelists and Holy Warfare: The Gangsters of the Global Pentecostal Movement, she starts off with the case of Flordelis dos Santos de Souza, politician, gospel singer and church leader, who was jailed along with several of her 55 (yes you read right) adopted children for being complicit in the murder of her husband Anderson do Carmo de Souza. She then goes on to talk about ‘Narco Evangelists’ in the favelas, and the relationship between Pentecostal religion and hard-line anti-drug policing exemplified by Rodrigo Duterte in the Phillipines.
The Long Read (The Guardian) Sudan’s Outsider: how a paramilitary leader fell out with the army and plunged the country into war looks at Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti), the leader of the RSF which is currently in conflict with Sudan’s army, led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The presenter, Nesrine Malik, was in Sudan in February this year, where the country was jittery after the shooting of a protester by an army officer. She returned to England, but by mid-March both al-Burhan and Hemedti were taking the high moral ground over this shooting, and the RSF moved first to take over the airport. She asks: How did Hemedti capture Sudan politics seemingly overnight? He was an outsider, from the western Darfur region, where he enriched himself with goldmines seized during the Civil War in Dafur sufficiently to purchase 70,000 mercenaries who he has sent to other African countries (e.g. to Yemen to support Saudi-Arabia) ad to Libya. In 2013 the RSF was institutionalized by the military dictator president Omar al-Bashir as a tool to crush dissent by rebels and protesters, giving Hemedti, as commander of the Janjaweed, a basis of power. Initially he worked alongside the army and in 2021 was involved, alongside al-Burhan, in an unsuccessful coup against Bashir’s civilian replacement. Both generals had agreed to work together on a framework agreement where they would relinquish power to a civilian government. But neither trusts the other, and so conflict has broken out between the army and the RSF. The looting sounds horrendous. The article from which this podcast is drawn is here.