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On 1/23/2022 at 9:19 PM, SeanF said:

Good as ever.

Broadly, I agree.  Culturally, there was a huge degree of continuity between post-Roman societies and the Western Empire.  Politically, economically, and demographically, there were big changes.  There seems no doubt that the big, observable, decline in trade hurt living standards, and populations fell, after 400.

Britain, the Rhineland, and Southern Germany probably saw living standards fall off a cliff.  Italy, Southern France, Spain all fared better.

 

Where it gets complicated is that a lot of these changes; Economic, cultural and such. Start well before the empire "falls" and often continue afterwards. So eg. population decline is a hard one to judge, did population decline because the empire fall or did the empire fall because population declined? (or both) 

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7 hours ago, Galactus said:

 

Where it gets complicated is that a lot of these changes; Economic, cultural and such. Start well before the empire "falls" and often continue afterwards. So eg. population decline is a hard one to judge, did population decline because the empire fall or did the empire fall because population declined? (or both) 

Good point.

l live in the UK which in the period 450-600 was probably like the world of Mad Max.  It was probably not so bad elsewhere.

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Plague and famine truly effed the 6th century -- that century is where the decline in population began, at least according to what I have read in a variety of histories and archaeology. The Bubonic Plague of the 6th century is estimated to have killed between 30 - 50 million, about half the world's population at that time. And it recurred constantly throughout into the 8th century. In the Near East it hit the Sasanian and Byzantine empires particularly hard. So, famine, due to plague -- and then, all the other diseases.  Never did the Western Church own so much land as it did in the 6th - 7th centuries, as waves of death left it the only continuity of all sorts standing, and desperate and despairing of all classes gave their property to the Church in hopes of theirs and their dead relatives salvation.

 

 

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Part II of Bret's Decline and Fall? is up at Unmitigated Pendantry. This one may change my own stance on the subject -- we'll see.  I'll read it later, as right now, despite blizzard, must do things.  Ugh.

I have two new histories of the Medieval eras here, for the white weekend, both of them, like so many others, begin with the Fall Or Not A Fall, but absolutely Change. :D :read: :cheers:

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On 1/27/2022 at 8:33 AM, SeanF said:

Good point.

l live in the UK which in the period 450-600 was probably like the world of Mad Max.  It was probably not so bad elsewhere.

I always thought that was hilarious- just about the one place where there was a catastrophic, city-abandoning, de-Christianizing genocidal population replacement catastrophe during the imperial breakup, and because certain types combine "high-mindedness" with an unconscious utter and profound provincialism they've spent scholarly generations torturing the record into saying it didn't happen. Instead of just focusing on Soissons or something like sane people.

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2 hours ago, illrede said:

... 450-600 ...

As Bret says,

Quote

 .... We’ll deal with the situation in the East in just a moment, so let’s focus here on the cities of the West, which were at the start generally smaller, less wealthy and generally far younger than those of the East (with some exceptions in Italy). Decline sets in fastest and is most severe in Britain, with the final collapse of the cities coming as early as the 360s, whereas in North Africa, the classical city doesn’t seem to tip into decline until after 400. ....

Quote

... Finally, the warfare of the fifth century had its impact, though as Liebescheutz notes, it cannot be presented as a sole cause simply because many urban areas were already clearly in decline when conflict hit. In the case of Britain, the cities were gone by 420, decades before the arrival of any invaders. Nevertheless, political instability and violence in the fifth century seems to have delivered death-blows to ailing communities, especially in the Balkans and along the Rhine. ....

The 6th - 7th centuries were really bad everywhere.  Recurring cycles of Bubonic Plague, as well as several other very deadly, contagious diseases, consequent famine and continued war will do that. Archaeologists have found many places in Gaul that had been very populous centers of trade and other action, completely empty, and they'd never recovered even by the time of the 14th century's return of the Bubonic Plague.

Though at the same time there were new centers for trade and mercantile activity that grew up in the North.

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Yes I have watched our understanding of the Roman occupation of Britain change in my lifetime to a narrative of slow decay beginning within only a hundred years or so after they invaded.

(The relatively well preserved city of Calleva Atrebatum is not far from us and we have followed the yearly archaeological investigations there for a while as the story has slowly changed.)

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The Hoxne Hoard discovery in 1992 is another big assistance viewing the Britain's Roman occupation. Yay Archaeology,  implementing much historical information not known by previous Roman scholars of these post-Classical Roman eras.

Dan Jones in his Powers and Thrones:  New History of the Middle Ages (2021) literally begins his Very Large History just about with speculation as to who those were who buried the Hoard, and why.  The most recent coin in the Hoard was stamped with Constantine III's image (reigned 407-11 A.C.E.).

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I like Brett’s criticism of a very natural tendency, even among working class students, to imagine themselves as being part of the elites of past societies, such as Spartan homoii, Roman Senators, slave owners etc.

Of course, we think in such positions, we would have been kind and decent to our inferiors, rather than being complete bastards.

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After reading Jamelle Bouie's meditation "The Backlash Against C.R.T. Shows That Republicans Are Losing Ground" 

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/opinion/crt-backlash-du-bois.html

on W.E.B. Debois's Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 (1935), I dug out my Library of America volume, for a re-read.

Bouie, who is a brilliant historian and writer illuminates this work, and why it, alas, is so relevant to this very minute, with succinct precision: 

Quote

 

. . . .The concluding chapter of “Black Reconstruction,” “The Propaganda of History,” is a polemical essay on the uses and abuses of historical narrative as well as a heated attack on the mainstream of American history writing as it existed in the 1920s and ’30s, when Du Bois’s book was conceived, researched and written.

Du Bois excoriates those historians for acting less as “scientists” in search of something like objective truth and more as propagandists for a social and economic order of segregation, violence and exploitation:

In order to paint the South as a martyr to inescapable fate, to make the North the magnanimous emancipator, and to ridicule the Negro as the impossible joke in the whole development, we have in 50 years, by libel, innuendo and silence, so completely misstated and obliterated the history of the Negro in America and his relation to its work and government that it is almost unknown.

Du Bois, by his own account, is “astonished” by the idea that the evil of history must be “forgotten, distorted, skimmed over.”

“We must forget,” he writes, “that George Washington was a slave owner, or that Thomas Jefferson had mulatto children … and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring.” The difficulty with this approach, he continues, “is that history loses its value and incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.”

Du Bois, who studied at the University of Berlin with some of the most acclaimed scholars of his day and who was the first Black American to receive a doctorate from Harvard, believed that history should aspire to be something like a science. And if that was to be the case, “if the record of human action is going to be set down with that accuracy and faithfulness of detail which will allow its use as a measuring rod and guidepost for the future of nations,” then in his view, “there must be set some standards of ethics in research and interpretation.”

Du Bois’s view was that, when it came to Reconstruction and the “American Negro,” American historians had fallen far short of that ideal. Instead, they produced — for the consumption of both students and the general public — a history that cast Reconstruction as a “disgraceful attempt to subject white people to ignorant Negro rule.” Rather than treat history as “a science or as an art using the results of science,” they had used it as a tool of “pleasure and amusement, for inflating our national ego, and giving us a false but pleasurable sense of accomplishment.” This history, wrote Du Bois, existed only to “influence and educate the new generation along the way we wish,” where “we” meant the existing power structure.

It is not hard to see how this critique applies to present circumstances. Spurred by a wave of youth protest that revealed (and then underscored) the extent to which the conservative movement had failed to inculcate, in the next generation, its view of what America is, this effort to gag any discussion of the United States that doesn’t affirm a triumphant narrative of national innocence is a clear and obvious attempt to make up for lost time. . . . .

 

Yes, it is Black History Month*, and the states and local municipalities passing and / or trying to pass laws that "Critical Race Theory" must be banned from the schools (which don't and never have taught it) and anything that indicates White people did bad things like enslaving purposely Black people for convenience and profit, is playing havoc with schools and neighborhoods who have traditionally now, after lo these many years of Black History Month, created all sorts of activities centering Black History.  Also, you know, just for teaching U.S. history at all . . . .

* About which, Spike Lee, so brilliantly in his Spikish way, commented one miserable winter of one snowstorm after another, "You just knew that if we ever got a history month, it would be February." :D

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On 2/5/2022 at 4:16 PM, SeanF said:

I like Brett’s criticism of a very natural tendency, even among working class students, to imagine themselves as being part of the elites of past societies, such as Spartan homoii, Roman Senators, slave owners etc.

Of course, we think in such positions, we would have been kind and decent to our inferiors, rather than being complete bastards.

Thinking about this a bit more, and tying it into historical novels, and pseudo-historical fantasy, specifically A Song of Ice and Fire.

It's easy to identify with one's favourite noble house, and their quest to avenge the wrongs that have been done to them, in a world that is a pastiche of medieval Europe, and thus somewhat familiar;  harder to identify with a war of liberation, such as that being waged in Slavers Bay, unless one has slaves among one's recent ancestors (and very few white people do).    Hence, you get a lot of hand-wringing about the treatment of Eastern slave owners, whereas the treatment of Western peasants and suspected collaborators by the "good guys" (the Stark and Tully soldiers) gets viewed as just a norm of war.  

Nobles, slave owners, Senators, etc. are the people who have left the written record of the past, enabling us to empathise with them.  The masses are far more anonymous/

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Which is why, at a recent round table discussion regarding the chestnut, "If you could go back to any period of time in which to live, which would you choose?" all of the women said they didn't want to live in any other time prior to the 1960's.

Whereas all the men had a plethora of eras they thought would enjoy living in very much, as long as they were healthy and prosperous.

Myself, I always thought living in the time and place of Sir Walter Scott was one of the best of times for an intelligent, literature and history loving, educated person to be alive, again, as long as one was healthy -- which he wasn't as a child, but he survived, thanks to his prosperous father -- and lived a splendid life, despite his self-inflicted money problems.  But the general prosperity and status he possessed, even with a damaged leg from his childhood illness, didn't interfere with him riding terrific horses, which he loved doing while patrolling Scottish coastline for French ships during the wars.

 

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12 hours ago, Zorral said:

Which is why, at a recent round table discussion regarding the chestnut, "If you could go back to any period of time in which to live, which would you choose?" all of the women said they didn't want to live in any other time prior to the 1960's.

Whereas all the men had a plethora of eras they thought would enjoy living in very much, as long as they were healthy and prosperous.

Myself, I always thought living in the time and place of Sir Walter Scott was one of the best of times for an intelligent, literature and history loving, educated person to be alive, again, as long as one was healthy -- which he wasn't as a child, but he survived, thanks to his prosperous father -- and lived a splendid life, despite his self-inflicted money problems.  But the general prosperity and status he possessed, even with a damaged leg from his childhood illness, didn't interfere with him riding terrific horses, which he loved doing while patrolling Scottish coastline for French ships during the wars.

 

Though my son’s girlfriend did tell me she wished she could have been alive in Tudor times.  I suggested to her that might not have been much fun.

I think 18th century Russia would have been an interesting time and place for an aristocratic woman, “the century of the Matriarchy.”

The worst times and places?  Anyone on the receiving end of Roman aggression;  Northern China during the Mongol invasion;  Eastern Europe from 1940-50;  Pol Pot’s Cambodia;  a West Indian sugar colony.

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Back in 2012, I remember having this conversation with my German tutor and another student from the class. I think the student nominated 1920s Shanghai for the fashion. I can't remember what my tutor chose. I said that if it was as a woman, then no time earlier than the present. If as a man, then 1590s London would be good. Didn't explain, but my reasoning was that if you timed it carefully (early 1590s) it would be possible to meet Shakespeare, Marlowe and a young John Donne all on the same day. Plus you could hit the theatres and take note of the techniques - not the Globe which wasn't around then, but the Swan and the Rose.

My second choice was early Augustan Rome. Though God(s) preserve me from the fish sauce. 

 

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4 hours ago, dog-days said:

Back in 2012, I remember having this conversation with my German tutor and another student from the class. I think the student nominated 1920s Shanghai for the fashion. I can't remember what my tutor chose. I said that if it was as a woman, then no time earlier than the present. If as a man, then 1590s London would be good. Didn't explain, but my reasoning was that if you timed it carefully (early 1590s) it would be possible to meet Shakespeare, Marlowe and a young John Donne all on the same day. Plus you could hit the theatres and take note of the techniques - not the Globe which wasn't around then, but the Swan and the Rose.

My second choice was early Augustan Rome. Though God(s) preserve me from the fish sauce. 

 

The who you are, matters a great deal.  What would it be like to have been a slave?  Pretty good, if say, you were the commander of a thousand janissaries, or private secretary to Augustus.  But being worked to death in a mine would be hellish.

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On 1/29/2022 at 2:05 PM, illrede said:

I always thought that was hilarious- just about the one place where there was a catastrophic, city-abandoning, de-Christianizing genocidal population replacement catastrophe during the imperial breakup, and because certain types combine "high-mindedness" with an unconscious utter and profound provincialism they've spent scholarly generations torturing the record into saying it didn't happen. Instead of just focusing on Soissons or something like sane people.

I thought that recent genetic and archaeological studies had proved there was no such thing as a "genocidal population replacement." If there was depopulation in Britain at this point, it was not because Anglo-Saxon invaders were violently killing all the locals. 

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1 hour ago, Ormond said:

I thought that recent genetic and archaeological studies had proved there was no such thing as a "genocidal population replacement." If there was depopulation in Britain at this point, it was not because Anglo-Saxon invaders were violently killing all the locals. 

I think the general view now is that Roman Britain was in steep decline, economically and demographically, after 350 or so.  The cities had gone by 420.  

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11 hours ago, SeanF said:

Though my son’s girlfriend did tell me she wished she could have been alive in Tudor times.  I suggested to her that might not have been much fun.

I think 18th century Russia would have been an interesting time and place for an aristocratic woman, “the century of the Matriarchy.”

The worst times and places?  Anyone on the receiving end of Roman aggression;  Northern China during the Mongol invasion;  Eastern Europe from 1940-50;  Pol Pot’s Cambodia;  a West Indian sugar colony.

14th century France -- the entire 14th century, has to go high on the list of the worst times to try and live.

~~~~~~~~~~

Been involved this winter with Mary Beard's The Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern (2021).  She gets so down in the weeds of the history of manufactured portraits and images of the Caesars that she's actually in primordial muck of it all, which can be tedious for anyone who is not an historian of this particular field of art.  The revelatory take-aways from it for the non-specialist -- and specialist is putting it mildly -- is the history of how the images of the Caesars on coins essentially created portrait art in the Western World.

This isn't political or military history of the Roman Empire. What it is, is art history, as part of the cultural history of Europe, and then, particularly English political history in the 18th Century as Britain is already in the weeds in its global imperial march. That is valuable stuff as it presents the British ruling class, including the monarchs through the age of Victoria's Albert, the conundrum of how to portray themselves in that ancient Roman traditional posture of conquering, divine, and why yes, imperial one-person rule, to an audience for which ideas of shared national rulership is the political mode.

Probably the Americans pulled it off best, in my opinion, taking the trappings of Roman imperium, but tempering them, even contrasting them, with other imagery of 'liberty' and 'equality', particularly with personal objects and so on which the public was already familiar with as part of the figures' stories.  Washington was best, as his passion for being a farmer was so well known.  It was terribly difficult though for British monarchs, in a nation that was then like now so starkly dividing along class and caste.

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7 hours ago, SeanF said:

The who you are, matters a great deal.  What would it be like to have been a slave?  Pretty good, if say, you were the commander of a thousand janissaries, or private secretary to Augustus.  But being worked to death in a mine would be hellish.

Yes, I think my line of thought was more along the lines of "visit for a day and return with abundant notes" rather than "live and die there". 

Re: Mary Beard. A few months ago, I caught a free online lecture from her on Elagabalus/Heliogabalus. It went through what we know about him from contemporary sources, and then looked at his later reputation and portrayals in art. That introduced me to the work of Simeon Solomon, a gay Jewish pre-Raphaelite artist that I'd never heard of before. 

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14 hours ago, Zorral said:

14th century France -- the entire 14th century, has to go high on the list of the worst times to try and live.

~~~~~~~~~~

Been involved this winter with Mary Beard's The Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern (2021).  She gets so down in the weeds of the history of manufactured portraits and images of the Caesars that she's actually in primordial muck of it all, which can be tedious for anyone who is not an historian of this particular field of art.  The revelatory take-aways from it for the non-specialist -- and specialist is putting it mildly -- is the history of how the images of the Caesars on coins essentially created portrait art in the Western World.

This isn't political or military history of the Roman Empire. What it is, is art history, as part of the cultural history of Europe, and then, particularly English political history in the 18th Century as Britain is already in the weeds in its global imperial march. That is valuable stuff as it presents the British ruling class, including the monarchs through the age of Victoria's Albert, the conundrum of how to portray themselves in that ancient Roman traditional posture of conquering, divine, and why yes, imperial one-person rule, to an audience for which ideas of shared national rulership is the political mode.

Probably the Americans pulled it off best, in my opinion, taking the trappings of Roman imperium, but tempering them, even contrasting them, with other imagery of 'liberty' and 'equality', particularly with personal objects and so on which the public was already familiar with as part of the figures' stories.  Washington was best, as his passion for being a farmer was so well known.  It was terribly difficult though for British monarchs, in a nation that was then like now so starkly dividing along class and caste.

Quite deliberately, I think, the Founding Fathers modelled their new Republic on Republican (but not Imperial) Rome.

There’s always been a tension between those who admire the Republic, and those who admire the Empire.

In rough terms, I’d say that the status of the average citizen declined in Imperial times, whereas the status of slaves and provincials improved.

Going off at a tangent, I’m struck by the divergence of views towards Rome in the New Testament.  The Gospels take for granted Jewish hostility to Rome, but St. Paul admires the Empire.

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