The Death of Persia, and the Death of Alexander the Great – Frederick the Great

Synopsis:

Frederick the Great devotes a small corner of his Anti-Machiavel to answer why the Persian Empire of Darius III did not rise again following the death of its conqueror – Alexander the Great. Rather than destroy the empire Alexander in a sense co-opted it, and used the institutions of the Persian Empire for his new Macedonian Empire. Frederick also keenly compares from a cultural/political context the nation-states of Europe in his own era with those of Alexander and Darius.

Excerpts:

“The same policy which carried the King’s ministers to the establishment of an absolute despotism to France, also taught them to distract the nation by using its lightness and inconstancy, to make it less dangerous: a thousand frivolous occupations, the trifles and the pleasures, was given in exchange for their rights and their power.

“France’s powerful armies, and a very large number of fortresses, ensure that the French Sovereign will possess the throne forever, and they do not have anything to fear now concerning internal wars or their neighbors invading France.

“The author (Machiavelli) considers these things from only one point of view. He does not discuss the structure each government has: he appears to believe that the power of the empire of Persia and the Turks was founded only on the general slavery of these nations, and on the single rise of only one man who is the absolute ruler. He is of the idea that a despotism without restriction, established well, is the surest means that a prince has to ensure reign without disorder, and resist its enemies vigorously.

“The difference of the climates, the peoples’ diets, and their level of education, establish a total difference between their way of living and of thinking – like the difference between an Italian monk and a Chinese scholar. The temperament of the English, stout-hearted but hypochondriacal, is completely different from the proud courage of the Spanish; and the French have as little resemblance to the Dutch as the promptness of a monkey-cry has with the phlegm of a tortoise.

“It was noticed from time immemorial that the custom of the Eastern people was a spirit of constancy in their practices and their old habits, of which they almost never depart. Their religion, different from that of Europeans, still obliges them in some way, for fear of trouble visiting their Masters, the company of not to consort with those which they call the infidel; and to avoid carefully all that could pollute their religion and upset the structure of their government. Here is what, in their countries, makes for security of the throne, rather than that of the monarch: the Emperors are often dethroned, but the empire is never destroyed.

*All excerpts have been taken from Anti-Machiavel, Newark Press.

Julian the Apostate in Gaul – Adrian Goldsworthy

Synopsis:

When Julian was elevated to the rank of Caesar by his cousin Constantius II it was for the purpose of countering continuous and destructive Germanic raiding into Roman Gaul. Julian had been brought up – and educated – in isolation in Cappadocia, and had survived the dynastic purges of the Constantinian dynasty by Constantius II. This reality made Julian the only option left for Constantius if he wished to have a member of his own dynasty raised to the position of Caesar – because Constantius had no sons.

Julian was an introverted intellectual with no military background, and was not intended to take on an active role within the campaign against the Germans – i.e. Julian was to act only as a figurehead for Constantius. Unexpectedly, Julian quickly took command of the campaign and achieved staggering battlefield successes in Gaul, as well as in Germany. Later, as sole Emperor of the Roman Empire Julian attempted to roll-back Christianity, and return to the primacy of Roman paganism – which earned him his famous cognomen of ‘the Apostate’ from Christian writers.

Excerpts:

“In the years before Julian’s appointment as Caesar the frontier along the Rhine and Upper Danube had been stripped of many of its garrisons as men were drawn off to fight in the civil wars. Roman weakness was confirmed when barbarian raiders were able to penetrate deep into the settled provinces and come back with plunder and glory.

“The army of the fourth century was geared towards warfare on a relatively small scale, an impression which Julian’s operations in Gaul confirm.

“In the third and fourth centuries many communities which had not felt the need of fortifications in the early Principate acquired walls. Simultaneously the army was putting far more effort into constructing strong ramparts and projecting towers around its bases. Defence was a much higher priority than it had been in earlier centuries.

“The Roman plan was to launch a major offensive against the Alamani, Julian attacking from the north and Barbatio from the south. Indirect pressure would also be put on the Alamanni by the Augustus’ own operations from Raetia on the Upper Danube.

“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the soldiers of the fourth century were all too aware of their capacity to dispose of any general and replace him with an alternative of their own choosing, and as a result felt very free to express their opinion.

*All excerpts have been taken from In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire, Orion Publishing Group.

Ostrogothic Italy – J.B. Bury

Synopsis:

Born into the Ostrogothic nobility, but raised among the Roman aristocratic elite of Constantinople, Theodoric the Great embodies the synthesis of two disparate civilizations. Theodoric had been educated at the Pandidakterion in Constantinople, and was a Roman citizen. However, he captured fame as a Gothic warlord who united the fragmented Ostrogothic people under his rule, and was later directed to conquer the Italian peninsula by the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno.

Ruling Italy as – officially – a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Emperor, Theodoric was in reality a Western Roman Emperor in all but name. Although nominally a barbarian by birth Theodoric’s reign in Italy had considerable continuity with the institutional mores of the Western Roman Emperors of the fifth century, and he expertly balanced Roman culture with Gothic culture to advance a calibrated fusion of both.

Excerpts:

“The formal relation of Italy to the Empire, both under Odovacar and under Theoderic, was much closer and clearer than that of any other of the states ruled by Germans. Although practically independent, it was regarded officially both at Rome and at Constantinople as part of the Empire in the fullest sense.

“Now what about the highest office of all, that of Master of Soldiers? Under Odovacar we hear of Masters of Soldiers. But under Ostrogothic rule no Master of Soldiers is mentioned. The generals employed by Theoderic are not described by this title… The solution, as Mommsen has shown, is that Theoderic himself was the magister militum. He had, as we saw, received that title – magister militum praesentalis – from Zeno ten years before he conquered Italy; he bore it when he conquered Italy, and he continued to retain it while he ruled Italy. It is intelligible that he did not designate himself by this title, because his powers as ruler of Italy far exceeded the powers of the most powerful magister militum; but this does not mean that he gave the office up.

“The senate continued to exist under the Ostrogothic kings, and to perform the same functions as it had performed throughout the fifth century. It was still formally recognised as a sovereign body… The constitutional difference between a senator and the emperor was that the senator was under the law and the emperor was not. But only the senators of the highest class, the illustres, had the right of voting, and as this class consisted of men who held the highest state offices, and were appointed by the emperor, it was the emperor who nominated the senators. Such was the constitutional position of the senate: politically it had no power, and its functions were practically confined to the affairs of Rome.

“In Procopius, it is expressly stated by representatives of the Goths, that neither Theoderic nor any of the Gothic rulers issued a law. This statement involves the admission that the right of legislation was the supreme prerogative of the emperor. And there is no formal contradiction between this statement and the fact that ordinances of Theoderic exist. None of these ordinances are designated as leges. They are only edicta… In legislation, the position of Theoderic as an official of the empire is clear and unmistakable, and it is remarkable how loyally he adhered to the capitulations.

“The essential fact is that the constitutional system of administration which Theoderic adopted and observed was not a necessity to which he reluctantly or half-heartedly yielded; it was a system in which he was a convinced believer, and into the working of which he threw his whole heart and his best energies. His avowed political object was to civilise his own people in the environment of Roman civilisation.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians, Endeavour Press Ltd.

Abolition of the Philosophical Schools at Athens by Justinian – George Finlay

Synopsis:

George Finlay’s illustrious, and nuanced book on the history of the Greek people is a landmark triumph for Western civilization. He surveys the history of the Greeks from the time of the Roman conquest until his own time in the middle of the nineteenth century. Finlay examines cultural, political, as well as military metamorphoses in Greek civilization, and how these developments evolved over the centuries. He touches upon almost everything including the abolition of the philosophical schools at Athens by the Roman Emperor Justinian in the early sixth century.

The abolition happened early in Justinian’s reign – i.e. before the plague, and the wars – and for this reason has somewhat perplexed historians. Finlay finds fault with policy for the decision, which was rooted in Justinian’s conceivable wish to make the newly established University of Constantinople – i.e. the Pandidakterion – the premier intellectual institution in the Roman Empire. However, the decision may also have been influenced by Justinian’s campaign against crypto-paganism within the empire.

Excerpts:

“History tells us that Athens prospered, and that her schools were frequented by many eminent men long after the ravages of Alaric and the visit of Synesius. The empress Eudocia (Athenais) was a year old, and Synesius might have seen in a nurse’s arms the infant who received at Athens the education which made her one of the most accomplished ladies of a brilliant and luxurious court, as well as a person of learning, even without reference to her sex and rank.

“St. John Chrysostom informs us that, in the court of the first Eudocia, the mother of Pulcheria, a knowledge of dress, embroidery, and music, were considered the most important objects on which taste could be displayed; but that to converse with elegance, and to compose pretty verses, were regarded as necessary proofs of intellectual superiority.

“When the members of the native aristocracy in Greece found that they were excluded by the Romans from the civil and military service of the State, they devoted themselves to literature and philosophy. It became the tone of a good society to be pedantic. The wealth and fame of Herodes Atticus have rendered him the type of the Greek aristocratic philosophers.

“Antoninus Pius increased the public importance of the schools of Athens, and gave them an official character, by allowing the professors named by the emperor an annual salary of ten thousand drachmas. Marcus Aurelius, who visited Athens on his return from the East after the rebellion of Avidius Cassius, established official teachers of every kind of learning then publicly taught, and organized the philosophers into a university. Scholarchs were appointed for the four great philosophical sects of the stoics, platonists, peripatetics, and epicureans, who received fixed salaries from the government. The wealth and avarice of the Athenian philosophers became after this common subjects of envy and reproach. Many names of some eminence in literature might be cited as connected with the Athenian schools during the second and third centuries; but to show the universal character of the studies pursued, and the freedom of inquiry that was allowed, it is only necessary to mention the Christian writers Quadratus, Aristeides, and Athenagoras, who shared with their heathen contemporaries the fame and patronage of which Athens could dispose.

“At last, in the year 529, Justinian confiscated all the funds devoted to philosophic instructions at Athens, closed the schools, and seized the endowments of the academy of Plato, which had maintained an uninterrupted succession of teachers for nearly nine hundred years. The last teacher enjoyed an annual revenue of one thousand gold solidi, but it is probable that he wandered in a deserted grove, and lectured in an empty hall.

*All excerpts have been taken from Greece Under the Romans B.C. 146 – A.D. 716, Cristo Raúl.

A Military Life of Constantine the Great – Ian Hughes

Synopsis:

Emerging from the Third Century Crisis, the Roman Empire and its military underwent a cultural revolution of colossal breadth. The era before the transition is recognized as the ‘Principate’ – i.e. rule by the First Citizen – and the era after as the ‘Dominate’ – i.e. rule by despot. This evolution was necessary for the autocracy of the Roman central government, because of the unremitting dynastic chaos of the Third Century Crisis. The architects of the revolution were the Emperors Diocletian, and Constantine.

Diocletian created an institutional division between civil and military offices – beforehand the two had often been fused – increased the administrative capacity of the central government, and humbled the Roman aristocracy. Constantine sought to unify the state under a single religious faith – Christianity – as well as establish an enduring administrative division between the Greek East and Latin West of the Roman Empire by founding a second capital city – Nova Roma or Constantinople – with its own Senate. Ian Hughes chronicles all of these events in his book, but with special attention given to the revolution in military affairs which took place under the two Emperors.

Excerpts:

“Modern estimates suggest that the number of legions probably doubled between the reigns of Severus and Diocletian, and by the time of the Notitia Dignitatum (early-fifth century) the 30 legions of the Early Empire had grown to more than 200.

“It has been noted that cavalry only has a ‘strategic mobility’ – the ability to march and retain the capability to fight effectively – that is superior to infantry over short distances. Over longer distances – for example, any march taking around a week or longer to complete – cavalry actually have a lower mobility due to the need to rest the horses, so in reality their strategic mobility is actually less than that of infantry. These questions have resulted in the whole idea of a ‘mobile cavalry force’ being seriously doubted.

“The chaos and confusion caused by piecemeal reforms and temporary solutions to short-lived problems in the third century resulted in the Roman army becoming a disorganized and inefficient organization. Despite it winning many battles in the third century, it was hardly capable of protecting the frontiers from the ‘Germanic’ tribes to the north, the Sasanid Persians to the east or even the Blemmye to the south.

“…it is possible to infer that both Maxentius and Daia offered better pay, higher donatives and better retirement benefits than their opponents. However, the fact that these troops were still easily defeated at the Battles of the Milvian Bridge and Tzirallum suggests that, despite the financial benefits, the troops’ opinion of their emperors was low. The further implication is that, rather than being generous, in order to retain their troops in their service the two emperors had little option but to increase their pay and benefits… It is the morale and readiness to fight and die for their emperors that were the main reasons for the victories of both Constantine and Licinius, not Constantine’s access to new types of troops.

“Their ability to plan and finance large-scale military campaigns, alongside their ‘sound and sophisticated logistical organization’, was only equaled by the capabilities of the Sasanid Persian Empire. Rather than simply attempting to defeat an enemy or conduct a raid, the Romans were capable of ‘having goals, knowing routes, terrain and the type and strength of the opposition’, meaning that their campaigns could be focused and their intended outcome clear. Of equal importance, they could gain intelligence concerning enemy location, direction and intentions, either through the means of informers or from the fact that an army on the move deployed a screen of light cavalry to gain information and screen the main body as it marched.

*All excerpts have been taken from A Military Life of Constantine the Great, Pen and Sword.

The Liberalism of Classical Political Philosophy – Leo Strauss

Synopsis:

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century discipline of philosophy demanded a second-nature familiarity with the classic works of Western antiquity. Leo Strauss was a scholar in the discipline of political philosophy during the tail end of the era, and he tends to signal a crescendo before the decline of this tradition in Western philosophy. In his essay ‘The Liberalism of Classical Political Philosophy’ Strauss demonstrates his expansive knowledge of the Western canon, and is skeptical of any rock-solid continuity between ancient and modern liberalism.

Excerpts:

“Positivism rejects classical political philosophy with a view to its mode as unscientific and with a view to its substance as undemocratic. There is a tension between these grounds, for, according to positivism, science is incapable of validating any value judgment, and therefore science can never reject a doctrine because it is undemocratic. But ‘the heart has its reasons which reason does not know,’ and not indeed positivism but many positivists possess a heart.

“The characteristic assertion of liberalism seems to be that man and hence also morality is not ‘a fixed quantity’; that man’s nature and therewith morality are essentially changing; that this change constitutes History; and that through History man has developed from most imperfect beginnings into a civilized or human being.

“When Plato adopted Hesiod’s scheme in the Republic, he gave a reason why or intimated in what respect the fourth race, or rather the fourth regime, is almost equal to the first regime: the first regime is the rule of the philosophers, and the fourth regime is democracy, that is, the only regime apart from the first in which philosophers can live or live freely.

“In other words, man fashions ‘a state within a state’: the manmade ‘worlds’ have a fundamentally different status from ‘the world’ and its parts. The liberal view originally emerged through the combination of determinism with the assumption that the laws always correspond to genuine, not merely imagined, needs or that in principle all laws are sensible.

“True liberals today have no more pressing duty than to counteract the perverted liberalism which contends ‘that just to live, securely and happily, and protected but otherwise unregulated, is man’s simple but supreme goal’ and which forgets quality, excellence, or virtue.

*All excerpts have been taken from Liberalism Ancient & Modern, The University of Chicago Press.

Commentaries on the Wars of Julius Caesar – Napoleon Bonaparte

Synopsis:

Exiled to St. Helena, and dying of stomach cancer, Napoleon Bonaparte dictated his ideas on the wars of Julius Caesar for posterity. The work is mired in technical details comparing modern and ancient armies, as well as endless reflection on how Napoleonic era artillery would be applied to the ancient Roman battlefield. However, Napoleon’s views on the conduct of the civil war, and its aftermath for Roman society are captivating. Unsurprisingly, Napoleon believed Caesar’s dictatorship was justified, and his assassination was unjustified. He also concludes Caesar’s Parthian campaign would have been successful – had he lived – thereby extending the Roman Empire to the Indus River.

Excerpts:

“Nothing is more opposed to a national spirit, to general ideas of liberty, than the private spirit of family or village. Because of this fragmentation, it also followed that the Gauls had no trained standing army, therefore no knowledge of military science. If Caesar’s glory depended solely on his conquest of Gaul, it would be in doubt… Any nation which lost sight of the importance of a standing army ever-ready for action, and which relied on mass levies of militias, would suffer the same fate as Gaul, although without even the glory of putting up a resistance as strong as theirs, which could be attributed to the barbarism of the time and to the nature of the terrain, covered with forests, marshes and quagmires and without roads: which made it difficult to conquer and easy to defend.

“One can only despise Caesar’s treatment of the Senate of Vannes. This people had not revolted; they had provided hostages and promised to live quietly, but they were in possession of all their rights and liberties. They had indeed given Caesar grounds to make war against them, but not to violate the law of nations in their case and to misuse his victory in so atrocious a way. This conduct was not just; still less was it politic. Such means never achieve their aim; they anger and disgust the nations. The punishment of a few chief people is all that justice and policy permit; it is an important rule to treat prisoners well.

“The conduct of Cato was applauded by his contemporaries and has been admired by history; but who benefited from his death? Caesar. Who was pleased by it? Caesar. And to who was it a tragedy? To Rome and to his party. But, it is argued, he preferred to kill himself rather than bow down before Caesar. But who was forcing him to bow down? Why did he not follow the cavalry, or those members of his party who embarked at the port of Utica and rallied the party in Spain? What influence his name, his advice and his presence must surely have had among the ten legions which in the following year were to vie for the destinies of the world on the battlefield of Munda!… If the book of destiny had been presented to Cato, and he had read there that in just two years’ time, Caesar, pierced by twenty-three dagger wounds, would fall dead in the Senate at the foot of Pompey’s statue, that Cicero would take the floor and angrily denounce Antony in his Philippics, would Cato still have transfixed himself? No, he killed himself out of spleen and despair. His death was the weakness of a great soul, the error of a stoic, a blot on his life.

“Among nations and during revolutions, there is always an aristocracy. If you destroy it in the form of the nobility, it will immediately be recreated among the rich and powerful families of the Third Estate. If you destroy it among these, it will resurface among successful artisans and the people. A prince gains nothing by such a displacement of the aristocracy. On the contrary, he restores order by letting it continue in its natural state, by reconstituting the ancient families on new principles.

“Caesar did not wish to be king because he could not have wished it; he could not have wished it because, after him, for 600 years, none of his successors wished it. It would have been a strange policy to replace the curule chair of the conquerors of the world with the despised and rotten throne of the vanquished.

*All excerpts have been taken from Napoleon’s Commentaries on the Wars of Julius Caesar, Pen and Sword.