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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Variety: Mike Piazza takes swing at ancient Rome

Do you like movies about gladiators?

Ralph Winter and Terry Botwick’s 1019 Entertainment are heading to ancient Rome and teaming with former Major League Baseball player Mike Piazza to produce “Constantine.”

David Franzoni, a producer and screenwriter on “Gladiator,” has written the screenplay, which centers around the complicated power struggle between rival claimants to the empire after the death of Galerius in 311 A.D. Under his reign, Rome’s capital was moved to the newly named Constantinople as he attempted to unite his empire through the spread of Christian doctrine.

...Producers credited Piazza’s involvement with getting the screenplay written.

“I’ve always been interested in this history of the Roman Empire, and this peaked when I visited Rome,” Piazza said. “The spread of Christianity during Constantine’s reign struck me as a huge turning point in human history and I think film is the best medium to capture such a significant moment.”

Repoz Posted: February 20, 2013 at 05:46 AM | 157 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. zachtoma Posted: February 20, 2013 at 06:13 AM (#4372406)
Are all former baseball players going to be in movies now? Should I start sending spec scripts to player agents?
   2. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:27 AM (#4372415)
Beats sinking your money into a video game.
   3. Swoboda is freedom Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:34 AM (#4372416)
teaming with former Major League Baseball player Mike Piazza to produce “Constantine.”

Tino Martinez was a decent player, but not really movie worthy.
   4. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:37 AM (#4372418)
Wow, as someone who specializes in the later Roman Empire, I don't know if I should be excited about one of the seminal figures of the ancient world finally getting some screen time, or cringing at the inevitable botch job that will be made of it. Hmmm...
   5. Misirlou was a Buddhist prodigy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:38 AM (#4372419)
Ralph Winter and Terry Botwick’s 1019 Entertainment are heading to ancient Rome


That's a neat trick.
   6. Blastin Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:41 AM (#4372420)
But they already made this movie.... It wasn't very good except for that scene.
   7. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:48 AM (#4372421)
“The spread of Christianity during Constantine’s reign struck me as a huge turning point in human history and I think film is the best medium to capture such a significant moment.”


I think it was Gibbon who argued the spread of Christianity was the principle cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire. I hope that';s what Piazza is alluding to here.
   8. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:58 AM (#4372427)
Everyone loved Gladiator way more than I did. I expected to love it, generically love "Blood and Sandals" movies and the cast was good, but eh. A flaw in me I suspect.
   9. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:04 AM (#4372431)
Ah, Ancient Rome...when the Lions and Tigers always won!
   10. depletion Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:04 AM (#4372432)
"HGH Unchained"?
   11. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:04 AM (#4372433)
And Bears! Oh my!
   12. JRVJ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:12 AM (#4372437)
I, for one, would find it very funny if somebody slips this dialogue to Piazza:

My taste includes both snails and oysters.


Though Piazza might actually like both snails and oysters, for all we know.
   13. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:43 AM (#4372446)
Wow, as someone who specializes in the later Roman Empire, I don't know if I should be excited about one of the seminal figures of the ancient world finally getting some screen time, or cringing at the inevitable botch job that will be made of it. Hmmm...
Excited. I do early Christianity and gender/sexuality, and even though there is basically nothing redeemable about the Da Vinci Code, it got lots of people interesting in the weird stuff that I study. Totally fun.
   14. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:47 AM (#4372449)
I think it was Gibbon who argued the spread of Christianity was the principle cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Which is a load of crap, for what it's worth. Gibbon's story of Christianity seems mostly to have been influenced by twin concerns - he saw a religion from the colonies taking over the center of the empire, which played on his fears of a world turned upside down if England let go of its colonies, and relatedly he was influenced by scientific race theory, and saw the spread of Christanity as part of a problematic "Semiticization" of the high Roman race. There's not a lot of history in that judgment.
   15. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:05 AM (#4372456)
There's not a lot of history in that judgment.


Then what is your explanation for the simultaneous occurrence of the Renaissance and the breakup of the Holy Roman Empire? Think it was a good thing the Church persecuted Galileo and other independent/critical thinkers? Or the obvious secular character of the Age of Reason and the great political/cultural strides that were made during that time? Have an alternative explanation for that?
   16. valuearbitrageur Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:20 AM (#4372465)
Ralph Winter and Terry Botwick’s 1019 Entertainment are heading to ancient Rome and teaming with former Major League Baseball player Mike Piazza to produce “Constantine.”


Just when you thought Mike Piazza made so much money he could never go broke....
   17. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:23 AM (#4372470)
Then what is your explanation for the simultaneous occurrence of the Renaissance and the breakup of the Holy Roman Empire?
Totally different things that happened in a totally different world over a millennium later.

You are presuming a kind of strict continuity between the fractious and developing, mostly eastern, Constantinople- and Alexandria-based church of the period of late antiquity and the stable Roman-based church of the late medieval period that even the most conservative Catholic historian would reject.
   18. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:35 AM (#4372477)
9. RMc is a friend of Bosch Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:04 AM (#4372431)
Ah, Ancient Rome...when the Lions and Tigers always won!

11. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 09:04 AM (#4372433)
And Bears! Oh my!


I was recently reading a book about bears that made some comments about the typical results of these contests. Bears usually beat lions, a bear could beat multiple leopards, rhinos beat everybody, and bulls were beaten by everybody.
   19. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:40 AM (#4372480)
The most convincing two-sentence explanation for the "Fall of the Roman Empire" that I know (and SDeB, who is an actual expert, can correct me here) is that the high Roman Empire was something of a historical fluke, dependent on a completely unsustainable combination of imperial expansion and the exploitation of unfree labor. Once the ability to expand was exhausted, the Roman Empire ate itself from the inside, whittling away the rights and status of everyone but the .01% (gradually turning to a serf economy), which led to the institutions of the empire (the military and curial orders, heavily) no longer having the skilled and dedicated staffing they required. And without institutions, you don't have an empire.

I'm also very much objecting to your implicit description of the high Roman empire, which was built directly and indissociably on a vicious form of slavery (not that there's any other kind of slavey), as some sort of lost period of human freedom.
   20. The Good Face Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:59 AM (#4372497)
I was recently reading a book about bears that made some comments about the typical results of these contests. Bears usually beat lions, a bear could beat multiple leopards, rhinos beat everybody, and bulls were beaten by everybody.


I would not want to be the guy responsible for capturing and wrangling a rhino using Iron Age technology.
   21. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:01 AM (#4372499)
I was recently reading a book about bears that made some comments about the typical results of these contests. Bears usually beat lions, a bear could beat multiple leopards, rhinos beat everybody, and bulls were beaten by everybody.

Interesting. A couple of times I've driven through one of those wildlife parks, and the bears, lions (all cats, really), elephants, etc. are behind walls, but the rhinos are allowed to roam around with the ostriches, giraffes, zebras, and others. I was surprised at the time, but I guess it's because they're not carnivores? And I don't mean that I was surprised that they were allowed to be with the other animals, I was surprised that they could basically come right up to my car. I didn't really feel safe.
   22. BDC Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:05 AM (#4372505)
In addition to the factors that MCoA mentions, one must remember that the Roman Republic and Empire were obsessed with religion: the age of Augustus was not some kind of heyday of secular rationalism. As Denis Feeney and other classicists point out, it wasn't precisely what we'd think of as "religion," but a pervasive mix of cult rituals, propaganda, divination, social networking, and infrastructure (in the form of temple construction and public art). To some extent, the late emperors just replaced this system of state cults with another system, which had many of the same functions. Other historians (Greg Woolf is one) might argue that Christianity was different in the sense that one's identity as a Christian was more important than any allegiance to a state cult: Christianity was universal in aspiration, and theoretically egalitarian, and so did tend to loosen individuals' ties to the state apparatus. But the Byzantine Empire did go on to function for another thousand years with Christianity as its official state religion, so it's not like Christianity and empire were exactly incompatible.
   23. TerpNats Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:11 AM (#4372523)
The producers better hope they can get all their local seed money from Angels fans, because Piazza's comments about Vin Scully will make it hard for them to get funding from Los Angeles fans who bleed blue.
   24. Jesse Barfield's Right Arm Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:14 AM (#4372529)
one must remember that the Roman Republic and Empire were obsessed with religion: the age of Augustus was not some kind of heyday of secular rationalism.

That's not the point though. It's the content of the Christian message - especially the radical notion of social justice and deliverance in the next world that dominated the early Christian movement - that was most threatening to Rome, not religion per se. Only uninformed Enlightenment historians saw Rome as some kind of home of secular oasis where rationality ruled. The goodish Rome died with the Gracchi.

I tend to agree with Gibbon that Christianity helped bring down the late-Empire Rome, and it's a damn good thing.

Also, very disappointed there hasn't been a Hadrian joke yet.
   25. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:18 AM (#4372534)
Are all former baseball players going to be in movies now?


There's a very old Tank McNamara that has a movie being pitched to Laurence Olivier. He wearily (warily?) asks how many football players are already cast. The response was something very close to -- Only three, we're talking class Larry.
   26. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:29 AM (#4372554)
#21 I heard one expert say that the rest of the animal world treats rhinos like the big guy with a hangover. (He was talking specifically of Black Rhinos)

And they have one standard response to being irritated or alarmed (both of which are seemingly easy to do). Charge and trample.
   27. The Good Face Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:30 AM (#4372555)
Interesting. A couple of times I've driven through one of those wildlife parks, and the bears, lions (all cats, really), elephants, etc. are behind walls, but the rhinos are allowed to roam around with the ostriches, giraffes, zebras, and others. I was surprised at the time, but I guess it's because they're not carnivores? And I don't mean that I was surprised that they were allowed to be with the other animals, I was surprised that they could basically come right up to my car. I didn't really feel safe.


If they were in a drive-thru safari park, they were almost certainly white rhinos. Although huge, white rhinos are relatively placid, although I wouldn't want to be around one that felt threatened. Black rhinos are critically endangered and have a reputation for being ill-tempered, aggressive, and prone to charging. At around 35mph.
   28. Lassus Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM (#4372573)
If they were in a drive-thru safari park, they were almost certainly white rhinos. Although huge, white rhinos are relatively placid, although I wouldn't want to be around one that felt threatened. Black rhinos are critically endangered and have a reputation for being ill-tempered, aggressive, and prone to charging. At around 35mph.

Amidst the bazillion things you read online, I did recently see something about rhinos in general being basically the quickest wildlife path to death for a tourist wandering around where they shouldn't be doing so.
   29. JRVJ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:10 PM (#4372588)
I, for one, find Colin Mcevedy's explanation at the end of the Atlas of Medieval History to be extremely illustrative as to the fall of the Roman Empire. There's a bunch of places where you can download it (if you don't own it - I still treasure my versions from like 1980 which my parents had bought in London).

Some quotes:

This brings us to a problem that can be considered
in more concrete terms; why did the
Western Empire fall when it did? The immediate
answer is, of course, the advance of the Huns,
which frightened the Germans into doing what
they had long had the capacity to do, for both in
numbers and in arms they were by then superior
to the legionaries who manned the frontiers. The
decline ir. the Empire's total population may have
been absolute or merely comparative to barbarian
increase. It may have been due to the fact that a
sizeable proportion of the masses were slaves
(slaves had a notoriously low reproduction rate).
8
or to a high death rate in the urban proletariat.
which must havc been decimated by endemic and
epidemic diseases. But whatever the extent or the
reason, the manpower situation of the Empire
certainly deteriorated I'is-a-vis the German, and
this deterioration was exaggerated by the specialization
of Roman society. While every adult male
German was a seasonal soldier, each Roman
legionary represented the defence effort of some
tens or even hundreds of civilians. Though professional
soldiery has advantages of discipline
and experience and can usually be relied on to
defeat several times their number of amateurs,
their capacity for doing so is heavily dependent on
their being well equipped, and it so happened that,
at the moment when sheer numbers were beginning
to tell against them, the legionaries found
that their methods and equipment were hopelessly
obsolete. The German soldier of the end of the
fourth century had a better sword made of better
steel, and the Goths had learnt the latest techniques
of cavalry warfare from the nomads of the
Russian steppe. The Romans were left dependent
on discipline and generalship, and when these
failed, as fail they must in the long run, on the
hiring of Germans to fight Germans. This last
could only be a stop-gap. for an indispensable
soldier will set up on his own if even his most
irresponsible demands are not met. In the end,
the Western Empire was destroyed by the arms of
the professional German soldiery that imperial
necessity had created.


And a little bit later:

The West soon
proved completely unable to pay its way. Once the
division of the Empire became a reality and the
West was deprived of the support of the far
wealthier, far more urbanized East. it collapsed
almost spontaneously. The East was just rich
enough to buy off invaders and hire guards.
Thus it survived ingloriously for a century and
by Justinian's time had rebuilt a native army on
new lines....

I n the West, taxation
killed the towns and trade and finally alienated
the rural population. The house was ready to fall
when someone knocked at the door.

...

To escape the rapacity of the Roman tax collector,
peasants in the later days of the Roman
Empire often put themselves under the protection
of the biggest of the local landowners. In return
for the title to the peasant's land, the landowner
guarded the civil interests of his client and as far
as possible shielded him from taxes. This seems a
hard bargain from the peasant's point of view, for
he surrendered his freehold and became a tenant
whom the landlord could evict at will; and it is a
tclling measure of the burden of taxation that in
the last century of the Western Empire the freeholding
peasantry voluntarily liquidated itself.

....

It will be seen that the great thing about feudalism
was its cheapness. Though the justice administered
within its framework was of a very
inferior sort it did protect the peasant at minimal
cost. Ultimately, the peasant depended on the
good nature of his baron, and one has to have
considerable faith in mankind to hope for a disinterested
decision when, for example, a rent
tribunal is composed entirely of landlords. But
the later history of the Roman Empire had proved
that justice can cost more than it is ????orth, and the
feudal system came as a relief to a povertystricken
Europe.
   30. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:22 PM (#4372598)
Everyone loved Gladiator way more than I did.


I think I remember reading somewhere that it's Bob Dole's favorite movie.
   31. Hack Wilson Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:26 PM (#4372601)
What's the matter with you people, we all know Rome fell because of the constant orgies everyone participated in. If you want to learn history watch the movies of Cecil B. DeMille.
   32. PreservedFish Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:35 PM (#4372608)
I went to see Jared Diamond give a lecture when he was on his book tour for Collapse. I'm simplifying, but he basically says that deforestation and overpopulation caused the collapse of most great societies. But in the book he barely even mentions Rome, which is an embarrassing miss for a book on collapsed civilizations. I asked him what book I should read on Rome while he was signing my book, and he said, "Uhhhh, Gibbon is the classic of course." Basically that tells me that he didn't even investigate the fall of Rome at all.
   33. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM (#4372610)
What's the matter with you people, we all know Rome fell because of the constant orgies everyone participated in.


If that's falling, I don't ever want to stand up!
   34. bjhanke Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:39 PM (#4372611)
Colin McEevedy obviously knows more than I do about this, but I do have an opinion regarding Constantine. He seems to have done two very important things. One was to realize that the Roman Empire in the West had become untenable - it cost more to defend than it produced in Gross National Product. That certainly did not help the Western Roman Empire's struggles. He also called the Council of Nicea (sp?), where he got all the Christian bishops together to work out a single, formal, Christianity for the Empire. He found that, although the bishops as a whole agreed on practically nothing, the big split was between two factions. The Hierarchical Christians, wanted a solid church hierarchy and a Bible that told you that the hierarchy was the only way to heaven. That group eventually became the Catholics. The other faction, the Gnostics, believed that an individual man could connect to God on his own and didn't need no hierarchy. Well, Constantine was an emperor. And if you're an emperor, which version are you going to choose? Why the one that supports your political hierarchy with its own, instead of leaving Christianity up the the individual, who may be difficult to control.

The breakup of the Holy Roman Empire (or, rather, its transmogrification into the Habsburg Empire), was, I think largely caused by the desire of German-speaking people to have their own nation, like France and England were starting to do. This rolled miserably down the road of history until the Franco-Prussian War, WWI and WWII finally established that Germany was to be allowed to become a country. The French were involved because they were aware that, if the German-speaking peoples got a country of their own, it would be the dominant economic power in Europe, a position which France held and coveted. I've even been willing to call the three wars I listed above as "The War of German Independence." The continuity of this is seen in watching Hitler's first conquests. He first took on Austria, which was largely German-speaking, and which, apparently, welcomed him, not knowing what was in store. Then he put in a claim to that part of Czechoslovakia (sp?) that was German-speaking. The French and English did nothing but bluster because these were reasonable claims for Germany to make, and they didn't know what kind of sociopath they were dealing with. It's when Hitler finally goes after Poland that the French and English realize that he is not willing to limit his country to its linguistic borders, but was yet another world-conqueror.

So, I don't really think of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire to be a result of religion, but the result of Europe finally settling down into nations, largely based on language. On the other hand, real historians know a lot more about this than I do. - Brock Hanke
   35. zenbitz Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:41 PM (#4372613)
I don't think Rome really colllapsed like more middle eastern empires. It just changed owners and slowly fractionated.
   36. PreservedFish Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:43 PM (#4372616)
Anyway, the fall of Rome is fascinating to me. I love the idea of the barbarians taking over this city that was the most important in the world 200 years ago, now it's depopulated and falling apart but still has these weird traditions and an elite that probably thinks they're still the most important people in the world, and the barbarians start dressing in purple robes and demand entrance to the nice dining clubs and the Senate and whatever. And within another few hundred years you get people that look up at the ruins of the Coliseum and they don't really know how it was built or what it was for. That transition is crazy, and I imagine that it was long and slow and weird. I read a book somewhat about this, The Inheritance of Rome, but it was too academic for me to make it through.
   37. JRVJ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:46 PM (#4372620)
34, I think McEvedy passed away, FWIW.

In any case, I didn't want to quote EVERYTHING, but he does go on about the Eastern Empire, so you should read that, too (and he talks about this in his Atlas of Ancient History, too).

In regards this line
It's when Hitler finally goes after Poland that the French and English realize that he is not willing to limit his country to its linguistic borders, but was yet another world-conqueror
, most people forget that after the Munich accord, Hitler annexed pretty much the non-Sudeten part of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

THAT's what first moved Anglo-French public opinion against Hitler, and turned Poland (and its security) into the issue that it became(so the realization of what Hitler was doing came a few months earlier than you think).
   38. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:47 PM (#4372625)
The most convincing two-sentence explanation for the "Fall of the Roman Empire" that I know (and SDeB, who is an actual expert, can correct me here) is that the high Roman Empire was something of a historical fluke, dependent on a completely unsustainable combination of imperial expansion and the exploitation of unfree labor. Once the ability to expand was exhausted, the Roman Empire ate itself from the inside, whittling away the rights and status of everyone but the .01% (gradually turning to a serf economy), which led to the institutions of the empire (the military and curial orders, heavily) no longer having the skilled and dedicated staffing they required. And without institutions, you don't have an empire.


My guess is that it was a population crash of some sort. The fact that the Republic could lose 75,000 troops at Cannae, and replace them, and keep fighting, while 200 years later the whole Empire couldn't replace Varus' 3 legions (~20-30,000 men) lost in Germany, is telling.

I think a combination of the Roman conquest, mass enslavement,cheap Egyptian grain displacing the peasantry, urbanization, and probably a climate change, caused a dramatic fall in population available to the Romans.

It also explains the Emperors' continual obsession with laws to force Romans to marry and have children.
   39. PreservedFish Posted: February 20, 2013 at 12:52 PM (#4372630)
Once the ability to expand was exhausted, the Roman Empire ate itself from the inside,


But didn't this take hundreds of years? Wikipedia says the empire's greatest extent was under Trajan.
   40. JRVJ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:01 PM (#4372639)
38, I'm fairly sure that I read once that the population center of the Mediterranean world was in Italy during Rome's heyday, but by the time when the Germanic tribes were knocking on Rome's door, that population center was no longer in Italy.
   41. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:03 PM (#4372640)
My guess is that it was a population crash of some sort. The fact that the Republic could lose 75,000 troops at Cannae, and replace them, and keep fighting, while 200 years later the whole Empire couldn't replace Varus' 3 legions (~20-30,000 men) lost in Germany, is telling.
There's lots of other data to support this thesis. Shipwrecks peaks in the first or second century CE and decline sharply. The ice core data shows a big drop in air pollution. Volume of animal bones in the soil peaks in the second century. Papyrological evidence shows that the price of land in Roman Egypt dropped while wages rose in the 3rd century.

However, every single decline of an ancient empire involves a population decline. Pre-capitalist societies had no capacity for cascading population growth based on improvements in productivity, so every rise-and-decline story is a population story.
   42. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:04 PM (#4372641)
But didn't this take hundreds of years? Wikipedia says the empire's greatest extent was under Trajan.

Yes.

I don't buy the internal rot argument. Rome was only destroyed by the Germans and Huns and Bulgars and Slavs over-running their borders.

Given the resources the Empire should have had, if it was as populous and rich as in 100 BC, those incursions should have been easy to deal with. They had dealt with the Gauls and Germans many times before. Yet, by the time of Adrianople, the Empire could only field a force of ~15-20,000 for a critical battle. And, many incursions weren't even opposed.

The fall of Rome makes no sense unless population and wealth were down remarkably by the 3rd and 4th century.
   43. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:05 PM (#4372642)
I would not want to be the guy responsible for capturing and wrangling a rhino using Iron Age technology.

I assume they killed the adults, and took their young. Not that I have any idea, but that's what I would do.

Amidst the bazillion things you read online, I did recently see something about rhinos in general being basically the quickest wildlife path to death for a tourist wandering around where they shouldn't be doing so.

You sure you aren't confusing it with hippos?
   44. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:07 PM (#4372646)
Once the ability to expand was exhausted, the Roman Empire ate itself from the inside,

But didn't this take hundreds of years? Wikipedia says the empire's greatest extent was under Trajan.
So, the real "decline" of the Roman empire happened in the 3rd century CE. This was a period from which we have excpetionally little evidence, material or textual, compared to the surrounding centuries. People weren't building things, they weren't writing things. It was an empire in heavy decline.

The 4th century actually sees economic growth in the empire that hadn't been there previously. The growth, though, never got close to returning to the peaks of the high empire. The shift toward a serf economy seems to have made a difference, to some degree, though I really don't know this history well enough to say. This didn't last, though.
   45. pep21 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:12 PM (#4372653)
Maybe Piazza can star in the remake of "Caligula"
   46. Lassus Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:16 PM (#4372661)
You sure you aren't confusing it with hippos?

You know what, I think you are correct.
   47. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:16 PM (#4372662)
i live by the rhino creed.

   48. bachslunch Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:16 PM (#4372663)
I think it was Gibbon who argued the spread of Christianity was the principle cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire.

When he wasn't pitching for the '60s Pirates? Oh, you meant Edward Gibbon, not Joe Gibbon....oopsie, my bad.

You sure you aren't confusing it with hippos?

It's hippos from what I've seen suggested online -- at least among wild mammals. Otherwise, probably mosquitoes.
   49. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:18 PM (#4372666)
Just when you thought Mike Piazza made so much money he could never go broke....

My first thought exactly. Although someone pointed out in another thread that Piazza comes from a very wealthy family even before baseball.
   50. BDC Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:22 PM (#4372669)
The 4th century actually sees economic growth in the empire that hadn't been there previously

Greg Woolf (again) cites the odd phenomenon of wealthy, elite Romans moving to the countryside, and consequent urban decay, in the 4th and 5th centuries. It's an interesting idea: not so much that society really collapsed, as that its internal centers shifted, and the evidence it left behind (as you note) dwindled, and populations fell (the country not being able to sustain them as the more highly urbanized early empire did. Life went on, though: fortunes were made, dynasties flourished, peoples moved hither and yon: there was just no cohesive imperial network any more, in many senses.
   51. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:24 PM (#4372672)
The most convincing two-sentence explanation for the "Fall of the Roman Empire" that I know (and SDeB, who is an actual expert, can correct me here) is that the high Roman Empire was something of a historical fluke, dependent on a completely unsustainable combination of imperial expansion and the exploitation of unfree labor. Once the ability to expand was exhausted, the Roman Empire ate itself from the inside, whittling away the rights and status of everyone but the .01% (gradually turning to a serf economy), which led to the institutions of the empire (the military and curial orders, heavily) no longer having the skilled and dedicated staffing they required. And without institutions, you don't have an empire.


As noted above by BDC, the survival of the Eastern Roman Empire for another thousand years appears to belie this thesis.

My guess is that it was a population crash of some sort. The fact that the Republic could lose 75,000 troops at Cannae, and replace them, and keep fighting, while 200 years later the whole Empire couldn't replace Varus' 3 legions (~20-30,000 men) lost in Germany, is telling.


A couple of problems I have with this suggestion. First, the Early Republican Roman army was composed of short-term campaigners who would fight for a short time and then go home to the fields, viz. the professional Imperial army which was composed of soldiers who signed up for 25 years service. Obviously, I am simplifying here as long-duration wars like the Second Punic War went a long way to turn the one into the other. But I see the 75,000 Romans fighting at Cannae as akin to the large Gallic and Germanic armies who could put impressive numbers into the field for short durations, but lacked the logisitical infrastructure to keep them there.

Second, there is no reason to think that the Augustan Empire couldn't have raised more legions. When Augustus came to power Rome had something like 50 legions as a legacy of the civil wars, and the Roman army was expanded several times after Augustus. Rather, Augustus felt it wasn't necessary to immediately restore the three legions as part of the permanent establishment.

The whole issue of population decline is extremely controversial. There is a chicken-and-egg aspect to it. Are there fewer 3rd century shipwrecks because there was less sea traffic, or simply because our understanding of 3rd-century ceramics (that are used to date the ships) is less well-understood than that of previous periods?

After a long time looking at the later Roman Empire, I am skeptical of arguments for major population decline. I will acknowledge that there are specific cases (Rome, for example) but those cannot be generalized. And I would be willing to accept say a 20% decline over the 200 years between A.D. 300 and 500. But not the 50-80% decline suggested by older archaeological surveys. As our understanding of Mediterranean pottery, and particularly coarsewares, has improved, we are seeing more of the rural population during the so-called periods of decline. And there are clearly major changes in the the development of the urban fabric that makes it harder to see people in the later Empire than in the Early Empire. But that doesn't mean they aren't there. Literary sources don't support a case for major demographic collapse.

It should be noted that I am a member of the group that thinks the transition from the Western Empire to the barbarian kingdoms was less of a disaster than thought by earlier scholars. Over the last 10 years the pendulum of scholarship has swung a bit the other way, and there are plenty of scholars who have been making the case for an acute break with earlier patterns, but I am not fully convinced. It's a very very complicated question. And I will hedge my bets by admitting that in many cases there are changes that can be described as a 'decline'. Anyway, I need to go to a meeting, can talk more later.
   52. Depressoteric feels Royally blue these days Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:36 PM (#4372682)
This has all the makings of another great history thread, akin to the earlier Civil War one. Carry on, people. If anyone wants to discuss the early Roman Republic (pre-Punic Wars) and the reconstruction of what really happened in civil politics and foreign policy (as opposed to Livy's and Dionysius's distorted accounts), that's the area where I have genuine expertise.
   53. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:43 PM (#4372685)
A couple of problems I have with this suggestion. First, the Early Republican Roman army was composed of short-term campaigners who would fight for a short time and then go home to the fields, viz. the professional Imperial army which was composed of soldiers who signed up for 25 years service. Obviously, I am simplifying here as long-duration wars like the Second Punic War went a long way to turn the one into the other. But I see the 75,000 Romans fighting at Cannae as akin to the large Gallic and Germanic armies who could put impressive numbers into the field for short durations, but lacked the logisitical infrastructure to keep them there.

Right, but in the 2nd Punic War, the Republic did keep those armies (probably 150-200K troops) in service for 20+ years. Right after Cannae, and the other early defeats, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel, but they rebuilt their armies and kept them in the field for 15 more years.

And that was with only Italy as a base (maybe 5 million people). Later, the whole Empire (maybe 30-40 million people) could only maintain about 30 legions (maybe 300,000 troops incl. auxiliaries).

The numbers just don't make sense w/o population/economic decline.
   54. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:47 PM (#4372687)
As noted above by BDC, the survival of the Eastern Roman Empire for another thousand years appears to belie this thesis.
This is of course a good point.

But to stick by my argument for a little while, I guess perhaps the question by the period of the Christian Empire shouldn't be "why did Rome fall?" but instead "why didn't Constantinople fall?" The decline in real terms had already happened, but somehow the Roman Empire survived in the east in a new form.

(That's the other fun thing about the "Fall of Rome". The city fell, but an empire which called itself and understood itself as "the Roman Empire" existed in reasonable continuity well into the medieval period.)
   55. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:48 PM (#4372688)
You are presuming a kind of strict continuity between the fractious and developing, mostly eastern, Constantinople- and Alexandria-based church of the period of late antiquity and the stable Roman-based church of the late medieval period that even the most conservative Catholic historian would reject.


The only thing I'm presuming is that if you give broad powers over large swaths of society to an organization that is bent on proselytizing a myth-based, stultifying dogma and that penalizes critical thinking and independent observation, progress is going to suffer.

It's not really a presumption either. It's a fact.

   56. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:48 PM (#4372691)
And I would be willing to accept say a 20% decline over the 200 years between A.D. 300 and 500. But not the 50-80% decline suggested by older archaeological surveys.
My understanding is that the dramatic decline takes place between 100 and 300.
   57. Hack Wilson Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:50 PM (#4372695)
but somehow the Roman Empire survived in the east in a new form.



Easy explanation: Eunuchs

In another thread there was talk about sports causing wars, I forgot about the Blues v. Greens.
   58. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:50 PM (#4372696)
So, the real "decline" of the Roman empire happened in the 3rd century CE. This was a period from which we have excpetionally little evidence, material or textual, compared to the surrounding centuries. People weren't building things, they weren't writing things. It was an empire in heavy decline.


The plague of Cyprian probably had a lot to do with that. It's estimated that at the height of the outbreak around mid-century, app. 5000 Romans were dying every day. Start doing the math and it's not hard to imagine Rome struggling to maintain its infrastructure.
   59. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:03 PM (#4372700)
And I would be willing to accept say a 20% decline over the 200 years between A.D. 300 and 500. But not the 50-80% decline suggested by older archaeological surveys. As our understanding of Mediterranean pottery, and particularly coarsewares, has improved, we are seeing more of the rural population during the so-called periods of decline.


This phenomenon could also be explained by a pandemic, which always hit urban populations much harder than rural ones. The rich moving out of the city would support this as well, since I'm sure it was observed by the urban dwellers that the rural peasantry were faring much better than they were, even if the true nature of its spread was poorly understood.
   60. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:05 PM (#4372704)
I had a classics professor who theorized that the suppression of piracy by Augustus was the greatest disaster to befall the Roman Empire, because it allowed ships carrying diseases to go back and forth across the Mediterranean quickly and easily.
   61. JRVJ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:06 PM (#4372707)
51, as per my above-posted quote, it wasn't so much a question of how many people the Empire held, but the fact that the Empire had specialized itself to the point that soldiers were a very small amount of its total population (which was NOT the case with the invading Goths, Huns, etc.).

58, as per my above-posted quote, a big part of the problem for urban population centers was that people were deserting them, because of the rapaciousness of the Roman tax collector. That had a huge impact on how easily the Romans could tap their resources, both financially and militarily.
   62. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:06 PM (#4372708)
First, the Early Republican Roman army was composed of short-term campaigners who would fight for a short time and then go home to the fields, viz. the professional Imperial army which was composed of soldiers who signed up for 25 years service. Obviously, I am simplifying here as long-duration wars like the Second Punic War went a long way to turn the one into the other. But I see the 75,000 Romans fighting at Cannae as akin to the large Gallic and Germanic armies who could put impressive numbers into the field for short durations, but lacked the logisitical infrastructure to keep them there.


SdeB, wouldn't an alternative explanation be that the Punic Wars were, in sum, what we might call existential wars, where both sides felt they had to completely crush the other, and the threat felt by the Romans made marshalling martial manpower a lot easier? I don't think the Romans ever thought the germanic tribes posed an existential threat, until it was too late and they had lost the initiative to do something about it.
   63. Rennie's Tenet Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:09 PM (#4372711)
There was a cable show called "Animal Face-Off" that used animatrons to simulate fights between various beasts. One episode did the Siberian tiger v. the Eurasian brown bear. The conclusion was that the bear's swatting power could crush bone, so that one good swat could doom the tiger.

Adolescent elephants who go rogue through lack of adult supervision can treat rhinos badly. From a 2006 New York Times article:

"Since the early 1990’s, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in ‘‘a number of reserves’’ in the region. In July of last year, officials in Pilanesberg shot three young male elephants who were responsible for the killings of 63 rhinos, as well as attacks on people in safari vehicles."
   64. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:10 PM (#4372712)
58, as per my above-posted quote, a big part of the problem for urban population centers was that people were deserting them, because of the rapaciousness of the Roman tax collector. That had a huge impact on how easily the Romans could tap their resources, both financially and militarily.


Like most epic phenomena, the causes tend to be multifactorial and your and my explanations are not mutually exclusive, and possibly supportive. For instance, those left behind would have to maintain the extensive public works infrastructure the rich were deserting.
   65. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:12 PM (#4372714)
The only thing I'm presuming is that if you give broad powers over large swaths of society to an organization that is bent on proselytizing a myth-based, stultifying dogma and that penalizes critical thinking and independent observation, progress is going to suffer.

It's not really a presumption either. It's a fact.


Which, of course, is nonsense. The Roman era didn't have any particularly strong technological progress. And there was tons of innovation in the Middle Ages.

The difference is that the Roman empire had lots of stability, the Dark ages didn't.
   66. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:15 PM (#4372717)
Re #63: Yeah, there is nothing more dangerous than an African male elephant with an axe to grind.

In terms of the most badass mammalian family, my vote goes to the mustelids, the weasel family. A hungry wolverine will take on a black bear if he wants his food, and sometimes win. Those guys are like little chainsaws with the switch stuck in the "On" position.
   67. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:16 PM (#4372719)
This is a great thread. I know a bit about Rome, but no where near enough to contribute much, though I did do a bunch of research many years ago on the Second Punic War. But, please keep on, and thanks.
   68. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:17 PM (#4372722)
The class I learned the most from in college was Byzantine History. Western education tends to go from Rome to the Latin Middle Ages of western Europe, so it really filled a gap for me.
It inspired me to read almost everything by Steven Runciman, an act which alone surpasses any college education. If you have a little time and have never really considered the historical divergence of Western and Eastern Christianity, read The Fall of Constantinople by Runciman.

Many Greek Christians hates the Latins so much that they actually preferred conquest by the Turks tk unification: "better the sultans turban than the pope's mitre." The trauma of 1204 never went away.

I'd be more interested in a Constantine movie if it were about Constantine XI.
   69. JRVJ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:21 PM (#4372725)
I don't think the Romans ever thought the germanic tribes posed an existential threat, until it was too late and they had lost the initiative to do something about it.


I'm speaking from memory here, but I seem to recall that the Romans had been co-opting Germanic soldiers and Generals for a pretty large chunk of time (at least a century?) before the final fall of the Empire. IF my recollection is correct, then it was hard for the Romans to see the Germans as an existential threat (since only very slowly do they become indispensable), at least initially.

EVENTUALLY, the fox was fully inside the chicken coop, and the non-Germanic Romans either were unable or were unsuccessful in adapting so as to face the Barbarians within and outside their borders.
   70. The Good Face Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:24 PM (#4372728)
I would not want to be the guy responsible for capturing and wrangling a rhino using Iron Age technology.

I assume they killed the adults, and took their young. Not that I have any idea, but that's what I would do.


Yeah, that occurred to me as the safest way. I'm just not sure if they had the necessary knowledge/veterinary skills to successfully raise a juvenile rhino to adulthood in those days.
   71. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:25 PM (#4372730)
And there was tons of innovation in the Middle Ages.


?? It took a thousand years to get from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. Rome left us with magnificent engineering structures, a rich literary legacy and the republican form of government that most countries of today have chosen to emulate and refine.

What cultural legacy did the middle ages leave us, except what NOT to do? Criminy, even when the things there were really good, like the printing press, the church tried to control and suppress. From the Council of Toulouse, 1229 AD:

"Canon 14. We prohibit also that the laity should
not be permitted to have the books of the Old or
New Testament; we most strictly forbid their having
any translation of these books."
- The Church Council of Toulouse 1229 AD
Source: Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe,
Scolar Press, London, England
copyright 1980 by Edward Peters,
ISBN 0-85967-621-8, pp. 194-195


And they didn't screw around with the punishments either. Some were burned at the stake. The risk of being burned to death would give anyone pause before trying to innovate, or spread knowledge.

EDIT: I'm amused by the double negative used by the Counsel in the first sentence. I guess they could never say no enough in those days.

   72. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:27 PM (#4372732)
Well, the Romans conscripting Germanic soldiers still wasn't quite as bad an idea as the British inviting the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes to Britain to fight the Picts and Scots after the Romans left.

The lesson: never hire a German.
   73. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:30 PM (#4372734)

"What cultural legacy did the middle ages leave us,"

Well, if nothing else, a crap ton of amazing literature built on anti clerical satire and polemic!

Also, Dungeons and Dragons.
   74. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:31 PM (#4372738)
It inspired me to read almost everything by Steven Runciman, an act which alone surpasses any college education. If you have a little time and have never really considered the historical divergence of Western and Eastern Christianity, read The Fall of Constantinople by Runciman.


The big gap for me, until recently, has been the history of the islamic empire. And they and the Byzantines were dire enemies, so I suppose I'm going to have to read Runciman too. Thanks for the tip, WJ.
   75. Cabbage Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:32 PM (#4372740)
He found that, although the bishops as a whole agreed on practically nothing, the big split was between two factions. The Hierarchical Christians, wanted a solid church hierarchy and a Bible that told you that the hierarchy was the only way to heaven. That group eventually became the Catholics. The other faction, the Gnostics, believed that an individual man could connect to God on his own and didn't need no hierarchy. Well, Constantine was an emperor. And if you're an emperor, which version are you going to choose? Why the one that supports your political hierarchy with its own, instead of leaving Christianity up the the individual, who may be difficult to control.


This is so fantastically wrong I don't even know where to begin.

1) Gnosticism was already on the decline by the time of the Nicean Council.
2) The gnostics didn't even believe that "an individual man could connect to God on his own and didn't need no hierarchy." Most gnostic rituals and practices had layers of secret knowledge, ranks of revelation, and other elements which go directly against the idea of some sort of lay-universal religious experience.
3) The council of Nicea pitted Arian Christians against the orthodox in a debate about the nature of Jesus' divinity. Pre-council, the Arians were all part of the established church and hierarchy: Arias was a priest, and Wulfias, the famous Arian missionary to the Goths, was a bishop.
4) The Roman part of the hierarchy had very little to do with the Nicean council. The Eastern part of the Empire was already more Christianized and had a more established Church organization. Only a handful of Western bishops attended Nicea, and the bulk of the intellectual heavy-lifting was done by men like Athanathius of Alexandria.
   76. Copronymus Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:35 PM (#4372742)
I'd be more interested in a Constantine movie if it were about Constantine XI.


It's a little surprising that it hasn't already happened, because a Fall of Constantinople movie seems like it has a ton of elements that would make for a great movie. Tragedy, huge battle scenes, people of different creeds and nations coming together in a crisis, an cannon that shoots half-ton rocks, palace intrigues, the end of an institution which could trace its history back to Augustus in an unbroken line, the city itself (in decline by then but still with indications of its lavish history), really something for everyone. The scenes of the last couple days practically write themselves.
   77. Cabbage Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:36 PM (#4372746)
Many Greek Christians hates the Latins so much that they actually preferred conquest by the Turks tk unification: "better the sultans turban than the pope's mitre." The trauma of 1204 never went away.

I'd be more interested in a Constantine movie if it were about Constantine XI.


The schism between East and West is a really tragic part of Western civilization. They call it the schism of 1054, but it took place slowly over a period from the mid-9th century to 1454.
   78. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:39 PM (#4372748)
It's a little surprising that it hasn't already happened, because a Fall of Constantinople movie seems like it has a ton of elements that would make for a great movie.


I'm sure the Turks have made such a film. The anniversary of the Fall of Constantinople is to them like Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July day all rolled into one for us.
   79. fra paolo Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:40 PM (#4372750)
What cultural legacy did the middle ages leave us, except what NOT to do?

I am bookless in Michigan, but this is just prejudiced silliness.

There were several significant improvements to agriculture that made farming far more productive in Northern Europe in particular than it had been under the Romans. Slavery retarded Roman technological developments in ways that serfdom did not affect medieval technology.

Also, while you can credit the Islamic world with the preservation and origination of many scientific and philosophical ideas, it was Western Europeans who took these notions and made far more progress with them than their originators or preservers managed. It may be that we think a bit differently nowadays, but we got here from there by building on the cultural legacy of the Middle Ages.
   80. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:41 PM (#4372752)

And that was with only Italy as a base (maybe 5 million people). Later, the whole Empire (maybe 30-40 million people) could only maintain about 30 legions (maybe 300,000 troops incl. auxiliaries).


The usual figure for the 1st century A.D. is 60 million. 300,000 troops is about 0.5%. That's not a large proportion, indeed when the number of soldiers approximately doubled in the late 3rd century the Empire was able to handle that increase. Most pre-industrial societies can keep a standing army of 1-2% of the population as an upper limit.

The Republican army is a special case as it was an army based on operations in enemy territory and massive looting. That cash flow allowed Rome to keep larger armies in the field than would normally have been possible. And I think Publius is right about the existential nature of the Second Punic War to some degree.

My understanding is that the dramatic decline takes place between 100 and 300.


Not any more. It is worth pointing out that some of the traditional indicia of decline begin as early as A.D. 100, but the 3rd century is much better known now than 20 years ago. The pandemic of the 2nd century probably had some long-term effect but I would disagree that the population of the Empire was much different in A.D. 300 than it was in A.D. 150.

51, as per my above-posted quote, it wasn't so much a question of how many people the Empire held, but the fact that the Empire had specialized itself to the point that soldiers were a very small amount of its total population (which was NOT the case with the invading Goths, Huns, etc.).


I don't think the fall of the Western Empire has a predominantly military explanation, although it clearly plays a role.

One thing that has always exercised me is the fact that the Roman Empire in A.D. 450, consisting largely of Italy, seemed to be a very weak state barely able to stay afloat, while in A.D. 530, the Ostrogoths, occupying substantially the same territory, were able to dominate the neighboring Germanic kingdoms and to be a major regional power. I don't think the demographic influx of 50,000 or 100,000 Ostrogoths is enough to explain the difference.
   81. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:42 PM (#4372753)
The schism between East and West is a really tragic part of Western civilization.


Why? I suppose it was bad for the church as a whole, and the Byzantines who had to endure the Ottoman yoke but the West took off like a rocket right after it happened and eventually freed that portion that was the eastern empire from them.
   82. Publius Publicola Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:47 PM (#4372759)
Also, while you can credit the Islamic world with the preservation and origination of many scientific and philosophical ideas, it was Western Europeans who took these notions and made far more progress with them than their originators or preservers managed.


This was the dividing point between the middle ages and modern Europe. That it had to happen by the prodding of outside influences, I think, tells us all we need to know about cultural advancements in western Europe during the middle ages. It's not like the classical literature disappeared. The islamic empire was right next door. It's that the medieval world chose not to study it, to disregard it. They spent their entire time studying the bible, and church texts, much like the salafists only study the Koran today. Look what it gets them.
   83. Tuque Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:49 PM (#4372761)
This thread needs more rhinos.
   84. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:51 PM (#4372765)
Interesting take...another way to look at it is that it took the Latins 400 years to get to where the Greeks were culturally by the 1100s. In Runciman's History of the Crusades vol. 1, he discusses how backwards and barbaric The Crusaders like Tancred and Bohemund seemed to Emperor Alexius.
   85. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:51 PM (#4372768)
A hungry wolverine will take on a black bear if he wants his food, and sometimes win.


There's a youtube video of a wolverine treeing an adult brown bear.
   86. fra paolo Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:55 PM (#4372770)
This was the dividing point between the middle ages and modern Europe.

The idea of a hard-and-fast 'dividing point' in this context is just impossible to achieve, as any serious study of the transition from the middle ages to the modern world would reveal. On your formulation you are likely to wind up with Peter Abelard as a Modern man.
   87. Ron J2 Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:00 PM (#4372775)
#71 Just finished an interesting novel (Wolf Hall). It's mostly about Cromwell. Not the eventual Lord Protector, but the guy who eventually became Henry VIII chief minister.

One of the things that the author is at great pains to point out is that Thomas More (best known to most of us from A Man For All Seasons) was Henry's chief persecutor of heretics (and his particular interest was English translations of the bible) and that he personally oversaw the torture and burning of quite a few people over matters of conscience before running afoul of Henry.
   88. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:01 PM (#4372776)
What cultural legacy did the middle ages leave us, except what NOT to do?


The university is a Medieval invention, as is the bank. Eyeglasses, clocks. The moldboard plow and the introduction of beans as a dietary staple. When you read a modern genre novel you're reading something that descends in an unbroken chain to the Medieval romances.

More to the point, the Renaissance/Medieval divide is one that very few Renaissance scholars believe is anything like as stark as the popular conception. Ms. McGunnigle is a grad student working on Renaissance literature and science, and she ends up reading a vast amount of Medieval material.

EDIT:

This was the dividing point between the middle ages and modern Europe. That it had to happen by the prodding of outside influences, I think, tells us all we need to know about cultural advancements in western Europe during the middle ages. It's not like the classical literature disappeared. The islamic empire was right next door. It's that the medieval world chose not to study it, to disregard it. They spent their entire time studying the bible, and church texts, much like the salafists only study the Koran today. Look what it gets them.


Ovid was read throughout the Middle Ages. Virgil was read throughout the Middle Ages (he leads Dante around, after all). Aristotle was rediscovered from Arabic sources in the 11th and 12th centuries (aka the "Renaissance of the 12th Century"). Also, the later Middle Ages were busy producing their own incredibly vibrant literature, that owes very little to the classical past.
   89. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:03 PM (#4372780)
Troilus and Criseyde is a masterpiece to rival anything written in the Renaissance. Of course, Chaucer had been to the continent...
   90. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:07 PM (#4372783)
The Middle Ages in the west was a great period of adaptation and reuse. People didn't read Homer and Virgil as much as they were reading Dares, Dictys, and Guido. They had Ovid but the Ovide Moralise was more popular.
   91. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:07 PM (#4372784)
Like snapper says in #65, one of the biggest problems of the Western Middle Ages was that it was an unstable mess of squabbling local lords and overlapping powers and an iron-plated noble class addicted to violence. In some ways, the gains of the 15th century onward were predicated by the growing ability of some random Joe to successfully shoot and kill a nobleman on a battlefield.
   92. Lassus Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:23 PM (#4372799)
In some ways, the gains of the 15th century onward were predicated by the growing ability of some random Joe to successfully shoot and kill a nobleman on a battlefield.

Don't bring DIPS into this.
   93. The Good Face Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:34 PM (#4372808)
A hungry wolverine will take on a black bear if he wants his food, and sometimes win.


There's a youtube video of a wolverine treeing an adult brown bear.


You sure it wasn't a black bear? Adult brown bears are lousy climbers...

A wolverine's ferocity and deranged willingness to take on all comers is often enough to get bears to back down from a carcass; it's the ursine equivalent of shrugging and thinking, "This ain't worth THAT." From what I've read though, if things DO escalate into a physical confrontation with bears or wolf packs, wolverines usually wind up dead or driven off. Being tough and crazy can only get you so far apparently.
   94. Depressoteric feels Royally blue these days Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:34 PM (#4372809)
What cultural legacy did the middle ages leave us, except what NOT to do?
I doubt there is a single scholar of this era who would sign onto what you say. Nobody who studies these eras has believed in a sharp dividing line between the Middle Ages and Renaissance for a century now. In fact, the idea of the Renaissance as being a sharp, seismic break with the Medieval period (as opposed to a natural, organic outgrowth of it) is really a product of the Renaissance writers' own self-regard and skillfully-written propaganda.

The idea that Greek and Roman literature was lost during the Middle Ages is simply farcical. Anybody who has ever read Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) would know that, for god's sake.

EDIT: Cokes all around.
   95. The Good Face Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:36 PM (#4372811)
In some ways, the gains of the 15th century onward were predicated by the growing ability of some random Joe to successfully shoot and kill a nobleman on a battlefield.

Don't bring DIPS into this.


Are you seriously arguing that exceptionally skilled noblemen don't have the ability to induce weaker contact against their armor?!?
   96. Nasty Nate Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:45 PM (#4372815)
I'm guessing this movie will have the annoying movie cliche of everyone talking with British accents.
   97. JRVJ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:47 PM (#4372820)
I don't think the fall of the Western Empire has a predominantly military explanation, although it clearly plays a role.


I'm certainly not arguing that there is only a military explanation. If you see the post that you were responding to, I immediately made reference to how the Roman tax collector was having serious trouble tapping revenue streams that would allow the Empire to continue going forward (and one of the McEvedy quotes above ein 29 xpounds on this).
   98. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:47 PM (#4372821)
"In view of all this disagreement over the duration of the Middle Ages, perhaps we should content ourselves with saying that our period extends from the close of the classical period to the beginning of the Renaissance. If classicists and Renaissance scholars don't know when their periods begin and end, then that is their problem."
-Fred C. Robinson


   99. BDC Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:48 PM (#4372824)
It's complicated, though, Esoteric. Stephen Greenblatt recently won a Pulitzer Prize for a fine book (The Swerve) that takes quite a "Renaissance" view of the Renaissance, so the view is current enough, though as you say it is a contested view.

It's a general benchmark that any Latin literary text known to the Carolingian Renaissance c800 is still known to us today (and vice versa), though there are exceptions (Catullus), and there are also poets like Lucretius who survived in a few isolated Carolingian manuscripts but really didn't circulate again till the Italian Renaissance 600 years later (the topic of Greenblatt's book). And really, there weren't many people in the West of Europe for almost a thousand years who could read much Greek. Even in the 15th century in Italy, most of the Greek scholars were refugee Byzantines at first, till Greek became a standard academic subject again over the decades.
   100. JRVJ Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:54 PM (#4372828)
As to the Middle Ages, the period ran approximately 1,000 years, and it's pretty clear that the first 500 years were much crappier than the latter half (the Black Death notwithstanding). Yes, there was progress during the Middle Ages, but that's almost inevitable, since we are dealing with 1,000 years.

One thing that we forget in regards the Middle Ages (particularly the second half or "high" middle ages), is how important it was that Europe was divided into so many small sub-units (even Iberia, where you had Portugal, Navarre, Castille-Leon, Aragon-Catalonia and the Muslim Emirates). Now that probably would not have been a good thing if the Mongols had chosen to strike deeper into Europe, but it allowed for a lot of variety (heck, Central Europe was one vast, shifting group of ever-shifting entities and polities). And yes, I got that from reading the first part of Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers over 25 years ago.

As to how Greco-Roman culture got to Western Europe (which I assume means Western Europe, Southern Europe AND Central Europe), there's really various sources: one was Byzantium (particularly after its fall in the 15th Century). Another one was Al-Andalus (the translation work done there was amazing). Some it came from other Arab and/or Byzantine sources. And I suspect some was just pure damn luck (i.e., certain Monasteries having kept crucial parchments in their vaults/dusty libraries, etc., etc., etc.).
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