Thursday, March 31, 2011

China Receives Burma Ambassador

Time: 1106
Place: Kaifeng, China

This scroll shows the capital city of China. It dates from this time. Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty is 23 years old. As the ambassador from Burma approaches, he could reflect that the diplomatic representatives at the Court was one of the most diverse in the world.

China maintained relations with Egypt, India, Indonesia, and the Khanates of central Asia. Song China numbered 50 million people.

Burma (or Myanmar) was ruled by the Pagan Dynasty under one of Burma’s greatest kings, Kyansittha. He consolidated and expanded Burma’s power in southeast Asia. He is most remembered for peace, maintaining an active diplomacy with his neighbors.

Both China and Burma were to fall to the conquering descendents of Ghengis Khan in the next century.

More info: Kyansittha and Huizong.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Motley of Nations

Blogging Will Durant’s History of Civilization

Outside of the main civilizations of the ancient history of the Middle East, Egypt, Sumeria/Babylon/Assyria/Persia, there circles a confusing medly of peoples. Some were barbarians; some were civilizations; some were half and half. Durant tries to make sense of them.

The Hittites settled in the area of modern Turkey (called “Asia Minor”). They used the plentiful deposits to move from the bronze to the iron age. They were suppanted by the Phrygians, who were conquered by the Lydians.

To their east and north of Iraq lies the region of the Armenians, a very ancient people, indeed.

From the Semitic peoples (originating from Arabia) there came the Phoenicians who occupied the lands north of Palestine.

Sadly, in this catch-all chapter, Ethiopia gets mentioned in just 4 disconnected pages from the book’s index – like the treatment the USA got in the last two volumes of the series.

Durant's Brief Outline
  1. The Indo-European Peoples
  2. The Semitic Peoples
- From Book One, The Near East, Chapter XI. A Motley of Nations.
I believe that this series is one of the great works of modern history literature. Its material is essential knowledge.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ramses Wonders Who Done It

Previously in Herodotus

121. (c) Now when it became day, the king entered into the chamber and was very greatly amazed, seeing the body of the thief held in the trap without his head, and the chamber unbroken, with no way to come in or go out: and being at a loss he hung up the dead body of the thief upon the wall and set guards there, with charge if they saw any one weeping or bewailing himself to seize him and bring him before the king. And when the dead body had been hung up, the mother was greatly grieved, and speaking with the son who survived she enjoined him, in whatever way he could, to contrive means by which he might take down and bring home the body of his dead brother; and if he should neglect to do this, she earnestly threatened that she would go and give information to the king that he had the money.

- Herodotus, Book II

More Information: Egypt, Herodotus's Book.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How to Be Glamorous

Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.

- Hedy Lamarr

More on Hedy Lamarr.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chief Joseph

- Another installment in my series

Stories of the world during the time Winston Churchill lived in it: 1874 to 1965.

In 1877, when Winston Churchill was 3 years old, the Nez Perce Indians were told that they had to evacuate their lands and move on a reservation. Instead, they tried to immigrate to Canada, or anywhere where they could be left alone.

Their flight and the U.S. army’s pursuit of them was to take them across the Rocky Mountains, through present Yellowstone geysers area, and then north to Canada. They were stopped just 40 miles short of the Canadian border. It was an epic pursuit of 1,600 miles.

It was epic in another sense as well. It was the last, dramatic story in the theme of barbarian versus civilization. In ancient history, barbarian was on offense; in modern history, civilization moved took and held the offense.

This section of my book will tell the story of this campaign and of it’s larger context of a story that goes back to the beginnings of civilization.

This series consists of short summaries for passages from the book that I am writing. Graphic is that of another Churchill book that I really like.

Other Installments of this series (in progress).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hope Gets Bombed

It was at Algiers in North Africa in 1943. Bob Hope was there with his USO tour to entertain the troops and to meet General Eisenhower. Ike promised Hope a night of peace and quiet but unfortunately, the Germans chose that night to fly bombers over the town.

As the bombs fell, the general and the star evacuated to the wine cellar. Ike later send Hope a note regretting that Hope had to resign himself to a night in the cellar instead of a bed. Bob Hope replied that it wasn't the cellar that bothered him; it was the stuff flying overhead.

Friday, March 25, 2011

France's Wars: Charlemagne's 771-814

by Jack Le Moine

Did you ever notice that in almost every great war in history, France has been involved in some way? Here’s an example: the wars which conquered Germany, reversed the trend of barbarian invasion, and launched the Holy Roman Empire.

Summary: Charlemagne’s campaigns united the Frank’s empire and extended it south of the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain, northern Italy, and into Germany. In total, these operations inaugurated a new period in the Dark Ages. Of particular note, the campaigns in Germany brought central Europe from the territory of the barbarians into that of civilization.

Background: After Charles Martel’s time, the Mayors of the Palace went from the status of Prime Ministers to that of kings. His descendent, Charlemagne, inherited the throne (after displacing his brother) and united the empire. Operations on the southern frontiers in Italy and Spain were constantly hampered by the traditional and, in his time, annual invasions from across the Rhine from Germany. After years of wars, Charlemagne decided to end these raids/invasions once and for all.

Major Players:
. 1) France:
United under the Franks but troubled by the autonomous region of Brittany to the northwest, and threatened by raids and invasions from neighbors all around. For example:

. 2) Other Countries:
Spain under the Moslem Saracens, since Tours still a threat,

The Lombards in northern Italy, not a direct threat to France but determined to acquire Rome,

The Bavarians east of the Rhine River, nominally subject to France but troubling the frontier because of pressure from their eastern borders by,

The Avars, occupying Austria and Hungary and troubling not just the Bavarians to their west but the rest of the Slav peoples in Eastern Europe,

The Saxons in northern Germany, who in earlier eras and against less formidable opposition would have began another mass invasion and occupation of France as in the barbarian invasions of yore,

. 3) The Leaders:
Charlemagne, one of the longest reigning monarchs in Europe’s history 768 to 814 and one of the most consequential. Over six feet tall, his commanding presence, his great energy, and his governing skills held his realm to a height of knowledge and commerce that enabled sustained military operations over a wide area that contemporaries could not match,

Widikund, the Saxon leader who’s uprising in 778 convinced Charlemagne that only the most brutal measures would solve the age-old barbarian problem.

Narrative: After a Saxon raid on Hesse, the Franks retaliated in 772. Charlemagne advanced to the Saxons' most sacred shrine, an enormous tree in a grove and burned it down. He established a fort and dispatched Christian missionaries. The Saxons massacred the missionaries and their converts and renewed the war.

This set the pattern for year after year. When he took the army to Italy in 773 and when he took the Lombard crown in 774, the Saxons attacked. Charlemagne built lines of fortifications in order to keep the Saxons out but the Saxons kept attacking and destroying them.

In 778, when Charlemagne and the Franks’ army campaigned in Spain, the Saxons, under Widikund attacked and plundered and burned everything east of the Rhine. Charlemagne had had enough. Year after year his army advanced, devastating the Saxons’ country. Widikund surrendered in 785 but the Saxons rebelled again in 793. Charlemagne adopted the harshest measures to pacify the Saxons.

Aftermath: By the time he was done, he had advanced the Frankish Empire to border of Denmark. While the barbarian threat against Europe continued in the centuries that followed, we can look upon this period as the time when the initiative had passed from the barbarian to the civilized. Over the long term, European civilization would spread east to Russia, north to Scandinavia, and south to the Balkans.

For Further Reading:


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Transvaal Gold Rush

Time: 1886
Place: Witwatersrand area, Transvaal, South Africa

Above in red is the Transvaal region. (cc) by 3.0 by Seb az86556

It was March; it was a Sunday, or so the legend says. An Australian miner named George Harrison was prospecting and suddenly found gold.

He did not know it but his find was one of the richest deposits in the world. Within 10 years, the Transvaal was producing 2.23 times the amount of all the rest of the world combined. It transformed southern Africa forever.

From all over the world, prospectors came. A new town named “Johannesburg” was founded. Within months, it held 100,000 people.

It transformed agriculture. Before, the region produced tobacco for export; otherwise subsistence farming was all. After, the influx of population and the new wealth encouraged a variety of surplus farming such as, maize, wheat, an fruit.

Sadly, it transformed the native white people’s attitude towards the rest of their world. These native whites were descended from Dutch colonists who had trekked into the interior. They called themselves “The Boers”. Their distrust and opposition to the newcomers turned into oppression. These internal tensions were accompanied by a Boer desire to use this wealth to make the Transvaal the center of an expanded Boer country in southern Africa.

These tensions led to the Boer War against Great Britain at the end of the century.

Epilog: George Harrison sold his stake for 10 pounds sterling, disappeared and was never heard from again.

More info: Wikipedia.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Blogging Will Durant’s History of Civilization

Assyria did a lot of cool things. It conquered Babylon, Judea, and Egypt. It left advancements in the arts and the culture. But it is mainly known in history for the cruelty and terror of its rule. With his coverage of Assyria, we see the first unfortunate tendency in Durant’s outlook and treatment of evil. He continually makes seems to make excuses for evil deeds or otherwise to provide cover for them. Nobody seems do evil in Durant’s series. For example, after a paragraph describing severed heads adorning banquets, flaying people alive, bleeding them like sheep, cutting up bodies and handing the parts out as souvenirs, he says,

It never occurred to Ashurbanipal that he and his men were brutal; these clean-cut penalties were surgical necessities in his attempt to remove rebellions and establish discipline among the heterogeneous and turbulent peoples, from Ethiopia to Armenia, and from Syria to Media, whom his predecessors had subjected to Assyrian rule; it was his obligation to maintain this legacy intact.
So, okay. If the end justifies the means reason is to be used, then how did that end work out? Egypt, Judea, and Babylon all reestablished themselves after only about a century of domination. Nineveh is utterly destroyed. So much for that.

Durant's Brief Outline
  1. Chronicles
  2. Government
  3. Life
  4. Art
  5. Assyria Passes
- From Book One, The Near East, Chapter X. Assyria.
I believe that this series is one of the great works of modern history literature. Its material is essential knowledge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ramses Gets Robbed

Previously in Herodotus

121. (b) And the king happening to open the chamber, he marveled when he saw the vessels falling short of the full amount, and he did not know on whom he should lay the blame, since the seals were unbroken and the chamber had been close shut; but when upon his opening the chamber a second and a third time the money was each time seen to be diminished, for the thieves did not slacken in their assaults upon it, he did as follows:--having ordered traps to be made he set these round about the vessels in which the money was; and when the thieves had come as at former times and one of them had entered, then so soon as he came near to one of the vessels he was straightway caught in the trap: and when he perceived in what evil case he was, straightway calling his brother he showed him what the matter was, and bade him enter as quickly as possible and cut off his head, for fear lest being seen and known he might bring about the destruction of his brother also. And to the other it seemed that he spoke well, and he was persuaded and did so; and fitting the stone into its place he departed home bearing with him the head of his brother.

- Herodotus, Book II

More Information: Egypt, Herodotus's Book.

Monday, March 21, 2011

How to Win Friends

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

- Dale Carnegie

More on Dale Carnegie.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


- Another installment in my series

Stories of the world during the time Winston Churchill lived in it: 1874 to 1965.

In this section, we see Lord Randolph in his prime, speaking of the great liberal champion, William Gladstone. Gladstone's image was that of a simple man, chopping wood as Abraham Lincoln was reputed to split rails. Lord Randolph did not see Gladstone as any Lincoln, however.

Entire forests must perish so that Gladstone may sweat.
He imagined a deputation of workingmen who come to speak to Gladstone at his “humble Castle named Hawarden”. But they cannot be received anywhere in the mansion for that would have been
out of harmony with the advertisement ‘boom’.” So they are conducted out back onto his ornamental grounds. . . strewn with the wreckage and the ruins of the Prime Minister’s sport. All round them, we may suppose, lay the rotting trunks of once umbrageous trees; all round them, tossed by the winds, were boughs and bark and withered shoots. They came suddenly on the Prime Minister and Master Herbert [his son], in scanty attire and profuse perspiration, engaged in the destruction of a gigantic oak, just giving its last dying groan. They are permitted to gaze and to worship and adore, and, having conducted themselves with exemplary propriety, are each of them presented with a few chips as a memorial of that memorable scene.

Thus Gladstone hands out the fruits of his government programs:
Chips to the faithful allies in Afghanistan, chips to the trusting native races of South Africa, chips to the Egyptian fellah, chips to the British farmer, chips to the manufacturer and the artisan, chips to the agricultural laborer, chips to the House of Commons itself. To all who leaned upon Mr. Gladstone, who trusted him, and who hoped for something from him – chips, nothing but chips – hard, dry, unnourishing, indigestible chips.

This was a Lord Randolf speech when he was at the top of his game.

This series consists of short summaries for passages from the book that I am writing. Graphic is that of another Churchill book that I really like.

Other Installments of this series (in progress).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

FDR's Fireside Chats

In his day everyone stopped to listen to the President of the United States give one of his famous "fireside chats" on the Radio. Of course, this was before television had come into use. Rush Limbaugh hadn't been invented yet, either.

Presidential radio addresses do not get the same degree of public attention as they did in Roosevelt's day. Fox News wouldn't allow it.

A couple of years ago the President was a Republican. His radio programs didn't get much attention, either. FDR's ghost wouldn't allow it.

Or maybe I'm giving ascribing too much power to Fox and FDR. Rock hadn't been invented then, either.

Friday, March 18, 2011

France's Wars: Rise of the Franks 500-732

by Jack Le Moine

Did you ever notice that in almost every great war in history, France has been involved in some way? Here’s an example: The Franks conquer the other barbarians and launch a new era.

Summary: Under Clovis, they conquered France. Following him, the Franks were divided amid interminable civil wars and the descent into feudalism. They and France were saved by the rise of the Mayors of the Palace who stopped Arab invasion from Spain.

Background: Learning and civilization declined in this first of the Dark Ages. Clovis’ descendents were unable to maintain their power. The Mayors of the Palace acquired duties equivalent from starting as the king’s butlers, to being, to chief of staff, to prime minister.

When the latest Mayor of the Palace died in 714, his son, Charles Martel took over. He reunited the kingdom with some notable exceptions like Aquitaine in the southwest. He fought off constant raids from the Germanic tribes to the east. But his most consequential war was against France’s and Christian Europe’s greatest enemy: the Muslims from Africa.

In the 600’s the Arabs with their new Muslim religion erupted on the world. They destroyed the empire in Persia. They defeated the Byzantines in Palestine, Syria, and the Asia Minor, being stopped only by the fortifications of Constantinople itself. Conquerors headed west, across Egypt and North Africa. In 711 they entered Europe by the back door and conquered Spain. Next up was France.

Major Players:
1) France:
in a Dark Age, its government was regaining control under a strong ruler.

2) Other Countries:
Aquitaine: having successfully fought off the Franks, it maintained a rocky independence.

Muslims: chiefly Berbers from North Africa, in control of Spain but divided into two parties the Ma’ddites and the Yemenites. For purposes of the conquest, they were united under

3) The Leaders:
Abd ar-Rahman: the governor of the Yemenite party.

Charles Martel: of France, whose office “Mayor of the Palace” made him the modern equivalent of Prime Minister.

Charles Martel at
the Battle of Poitiers in October, 732.
Public domain image from Wikipedia.
Narrative: The Muslims took Narbonne. They turned this into their base of operations for their campaigns against France. Further attacks were stopped by the Aquitaines. They relieved the siege of Toulouse in 721.

In 725 the Muslims returned, capturing Carcassonne and Nimes. They occupied most of Septimania. They continued into Burgundy, destroying Autun.

Meanwhile, back in Spain, rivalries between the Ma’ddites and the Yemenites kept their armies at home. During the years of respite, Charles Martel worked on giving his army a cavalry arm to neutralize the Muslim advantage in that.

The time of respite ended in 732. Abd ar-Rahman invaded Aquitaine and destroyed their army and burned Bordeaux. They invaded the lands of the Franks, taking Poitiers. They now moved on Tours.

On a small hill they spied the Franks’ army under Charles Martel. Its location is unknown but is believed to be between Poitiers and Tours. For 7 days the armies the armies faced one another. I find it difficult to believe that the cavalry of both armies were inactive. Surely, there was much maneuvering for advantage.

Finally, the Muslims attacked. Their army consisted primarily of cavalry; the Franks infantry. The Franks’ lines held. The Muslim cavalry suffered heavy loss.

We know that Martel’s counter-attacks must have been limited at most because the next morning, they found the Arab tents deserted. Had the battle been joined on the Arab side of the field, their withdrawal during the night would not have come as a surprise.

Aftermath: The Muslims never came back. During this time, amphibious invasions had occupied Provence in the south. In the follow-up, Martel liberated this province. Revolts in North Africa sapped the Muslim armies’ strength, but even during times of power, the recovering strength of the Franks discouraged further attempts at invasion. Until the capture of Constantinople 700 years later (!), further Muslim expansion into Europe would henceforth have to come by sea. In France itself, a sense of shared purpose grew and countered the spreading feudalism of the age.

For Further Reading:


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Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Blogging Will Durant’s History of Civilization

No one looking at the site of ancient Babylon today would suspect that these hot and dreary wastes along the Euphrates were once the rich and powerful capital of a civilization that almost created astronomy, added richly to the progress of medicine, established the science of language, prepared the first great codes of law, taught the Greeks the rudiments of mathematics, physics and philosophy, gave the Jews the mythology which they gave to the world, and passed on to the Arabs part of that scientific and architectural lore which they aroused the dormant soul of medieval Europe

The story of the flood and of the Garden of Paradise originated from the Sumerians. I’ve got to wonder about the automatic labeling of these stories as “myths”. The Bible is criticized when a story is not told anywhere else – no verification; and it is also criticized when a story is told by others – they just stole someone else’s myth. One cannot have it both ways.

But back to the Babylonians. They did not enjoy the isolation of the Egyptians. It originated by conquest of the Akkadians of the Sumerians; it was destined to be conquered again and yet again. Durant reckons Hammurabi as the greatest of their leaders. Their best legacy was their achievements in commerce and law.

Durant's Brief Outline
  1. From Hammurabi to Nebuchadrezzar
  2. The Toilers
  3. The Law
  4. The Gods of Babylon
  5. Morals
  6. Literature
  7. Artists
  8. Science
  9. Philosophers
  10. Epitaph
- From Book One The Near East, Chapter IX. Babylonia.

I believe that this series is one of the great works of modern history literature. Its material is essential knowledge.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Egypt's Pharoah Rhampsinitos

Previously in Herodotus

121. After Proteus, they told me, Rhampsinitos received in succession the kingdom, who left as a memorial of himself that gateway to the temple of Hephaistos which is turned towards the West, and in front of the gateway he set up two statues, in height five-and-twenty cubits, of which the one which stands on the North side is called by the Egyptians Summer and the one on the South side Winter; and to that one which they call Summer they do reverence and make offerings, while to the other which is called Winter they do the opposite of these things.

(a) This king, they said, got great wealth of silver, which none of the kings born after him could surpass or even come near to; and wishing to store his wealth in safety he caused to be built a chamber of stone, one of the walls whereof was towards the outside of his palace: and the builder of this, having a design against it, contrived as follows, that is, he disposed one of the stones in such a manner that it could be taken out easily from the wall either by two men or even by one. So when the chamber was finished, the king stored his money in it, and after some time the builder, being near the end of his life, called to him his sons (for he had two) and to them he related how he had contrived in building the treasury of the king, and all in forethought for them, that they might have ample means of living. And when he had clearly set forth to them everything concerning the taking out of the stone, he gave them the measurements, saying that if they paid heed to this matter they would be stewards of the king's treasury. So he ended his life, and his sons made no long delay in setting to work, but went to the palace by night, and having found the stone in the wall of the chamber they dealt with it easily and carried forth for themselves great quantity of the wealth within.

- Herodotus, Book II

More Information: Egypt, Herodotus's Book.

Monday, March 14, 2011

No Talent for Writing?

It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.

- Robert Benchley

More about Robert Benchley.

Picture: from "How to Sleep". The short film became his best-known work, and earned him an Academy Award.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Home Rule

- Another installment in my series

Stories of the world during the time Winston Churchill lived in it: 1874 to 1965.

This will be the first non-Churchill-specific section in the book. The bulk of it will be stories concerning current events in Churchill's time on this Earth. We do not go to far from the main line of Churchill's life in this first outing. As it turned out, Home Rule for Ireland was to play a major part of both his father's career and his own.

What to do about Ireland? Disraeli expressed the Conservatives’ perplexity:

I want to see a public man come forward and say what the Irish question is. One says it is a physical question; another, it is a spiritual. Now it is the absence of aristocracy, then the absence of railroads. It is the Pope one day, potatoes the next.
He, and later the Churchills would have done better to focus on the individuals of Ireland owning their own land and their chronic poverty.

This series consists of short summaries for passages from the book that I am writing.

Other Installments of this series (in progress).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Who's Calvin Coolidge?

At a Whitehouse Reception in the 1920's, someone bet Will Rogers that he could not get old stone-face, President Calvin Coolidge to laugh. So, Will sat next to the President and said to him, "I'm sorry. I didn't get the name." Will won the bet.

Friday, March 11, 2011

France's Wars: Barbarian Invasions 376-500

by Jack Le Moine

Did you ever notice that in almost every great war in history, France has been involved in some way? Here’s an example: the barbarian invasions of Gaul and the end of the Roman Empire.

Summary: The mass movement of peoples across the Eurasian continent landmass brought wave after wave of barbarian invasions across the Rhine and into the area of ancient Gaul, present day France. Against this pounding of peoples across the centuries, Rome fell, Gaul descended into the Dark Ages, and France was born.

Background: Gaul had become thoroughly Romanized by the 4th. century A.D. Meanwhile, climate change and population increase had caused the nomadic peoples across the northern Eurasian landmass to migrate. In the east, China stood fast; in the south, the Parthian and the Byzantine Empires held their own; in the west, a decayed Roman Empire proved to be the weakest barrier.

Major Players:
1) France: in this era, Gaul was just a province of the Roman Empire. Its destiny was controlled by Rome’s.

2) Other Countries: Rome: centuries before, with control of just a portion of Italy, it was able to generate legion after legion to meet emergencies. But that was then; now it could not recruit and its people would not serve. In this era, a depleted army defended a fearful but unwilling populace.

Major Barbarian Tribes: Visigoths, the first to invade and stay, Ostrogoths (took Italy), Vandals (north Africa), Huns (defeated) , Burgundians (defeated by the Franks), and Franks (who ended up with France).

3) The Leaders:Many over the centuries, but the most memorable was Attila the Hun, Aleric of the Visigoths, Stilicho, the last great Roman general, and Clovis, the Frank who ended up with Gaul.

CC BY-SA 2.5 image by MapMaster from Wikipedia.
Narrative: The Visigoths broke the Roman army in the east in 378 but were stopped in their southern and eastern thrust by the fortifications of Constantinople. The path of least resistance was west, through Greece, around the Adriatic Sea, into Italy (sacking Rome in 410) and eventually into Gaul and Spain

The Huns invaded Gaul from the Rhine but were stopped by a combined army of Romans and barbarians at Chalons. They later failed in an invasion of Italy, retreated and eventually dismembered in the constant barbarian turmoil in the depths of the continent.

The Vandals crossed Gaul starting in 406, sacking Reims, Amiens, Arras, Tournai and other lesser known towns in their journey to Spain and later Africa.

The Burgundians invaded in 411 and settled in the eastern part of Gaul. The Franks invaded the north eastern part of Gaul in 486 under Clovis. Burgundy was conquered after 500 and the Visigoths after the Battle of Vouille in 507. Henceforth, Gaul was the land of the Franks – France.

Aftermath: These invasions inaugurated the Dark Ages where learning and commerce declined. Government devolved to the local level known as Feudalism. Civilization held on but by the skin of its teeth.

For Further Reading:
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Council of Trent Adjourns

Time: December 4, 1563
Place: Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Trent (modern Trento), Italy

The Protestant Reformation had left the Pope’s Catholic Church in disarray. Clerical abuses had been identified and attacked; doctrines challenged; and the papacy itself under siege. The worst of it was that the Catholic Church had announced no official position on the theological issues the Protestants had raised.

A council of all the leaders of the church had first met here 18 years earlier in 1545. At first, it was contemplated that “the church” would have the widest meaning to include Protestant leaders as well as Catholics in order to bring about compromise and reconciliation. It was not to be.

The Council met and recessed three times over the years. It became a strictly Catholic affair, the Protestant representatives being frozen out. In the end, it reformed abuses and met the doctrinal issues with clarity and authority. The Catholic leaders marched out of the cathedral with confidence and purpose. The faithful throughout Europe picked up this spirit.

The Counter-Reformation was begun.

More information: Wikipedia.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Blogging Will Durant’s History of Civilization

You know Egypt is going to get lengthy treatment (80 pages). He begins with a travelogue of a voyage up the Nile River that he took himself. When he saw the pyramids,

We stand where Caesar and Napoleon stood, and remember that fifty centuries look down upon us; where the Father of History came four hundred years before Caesar, and heard the tales that were to startle Pericles. A new perspective of time comes to us, two millenniums seem to fall out of the picture, and Caesar, Herodotus and ourselves appear for a moment contemporary and modern before those tombs that were more ancient to them than the Greeks are to us.
- one of the highlights of the art of history writing.

Durant says that the minor arts were the major art of the Egyptians. He lovingly describes the jewelry and the furniture they produced. His favorite statue is a small piece of a satisfied supervisor/tradesman.

Blogging Durant forces me to review and try to remember what I had read before. I think that his Egypt writing was the first great high of his series. I’ve got to remember, so I must read this chapter again and again.

Durant's Brief Outline
  1. The Gift of the Nile (his travelogue)
  2. The Master Builders
  3. The Civilization of Egypt
  4. The Heretic King (Ikhnaton)
  5. Decline and Fall
- From Book One, The Near East, Chapter VIII. Egypt.
I believe that this series is one of the great works of modern history literature. Its material is essential knowledge.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

His Analysis of the Helen of Troy Story

Previously in Herodotus

120. Thus the priests of the Egyptians told me; and I myself also agree with the story which was told of Helen, adding this consideration, namely that if Helen had been in Ilion she would have been given up to the Hellenes, whether Alexander consented or no; for Priam assuredly was not so mad, nor yet the others of his house, that they were desirous to run risk of ruin for themselves and their children and their city, in order that Alexander might have Helen as his wife: and even supposing that during the first part of the time they had been so inclined, yet when many others of the Trojans besides were losing their lives as often as they fought with the Hellenes, and of the sons of Priam himself always two or three or even more were slain when a battle took place (if one may trust at all to the Epic poets),--when, I say, things were coming thus to pass, I consider that even if Priam himself had had Helen as his wife, he would have given her back to the Achaians, if at least by so doing he might be freed from the evils which oppressed him. Nor even was the kingdom coming to Alexander next, so that when Priam was old the government was in his hands; but Hector, who was both older and more of a man than he, would have received it after the death of Priam; and him it behoved not to allow his brother to go on with his wrong-doing, considering that great evils were coming to pass on his account both to himself privately and in general to the other Trojans. In truth however they lacked the power to give Helen back; and the Hellenes did not believe them, though they spoke the truth; because, as I declare my opinion, the divine power was purposing to cause them utterly to perish, and so make it evident to men that for great wrongs great also are the chastisements which come from the gods. And thus have I delivered my opinion concerning these matters.

- Herodotus, Book II

More Information: Egypt, Herodotus's Book.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Be Polite

Be polite; write diplomatically; even in a declaration of war observe the rules of politeness.

- Otto von Bismark

More about Otto von Bismark.

Picture (cc by-sa 3.0) by SPBer.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Fourth Party

- Another installment in my series

Stories of the world during the time Winston Churchill lived in it: 1874 to 1965.

The year is 1880; the election is over; and you Conservatives have lost again. Since 1846 your party has won only one general election, the last one six years ago in 1874.

We watch as you traipse into Parliament. Across the aisle the Liberal Members sit in row upon row, their enormous numbers overflowing to your own side of the chamber. Below to your right, on the Front Opposition Bench sits the sorry wreckage of your leadership. Utterly demoralized, and bereft of ideas, all they can think of is to oppose change. Across the aisle from them, on the Treasury Bench, among the Liberal leaders sits their champion, one of the greatest British statesmen of the century: William E. Gladstone.

Can you even imagine, friend Tory, that in a few short years you will stake your future on the masses you dread and that they may in turn base their future upon the institutions you guard? The instrument of this change sits with you now. Don’t try to guess but if you insist here’s a hint: he is the most unlikely of your colleagues.

This passage of the book will take Lord Randolph (Winston's father) from his days as a playboy through his years energizing the Conservatives, to his emergence in the highest circles of British government.

This series consists of short summaries for passages from the book that I am writing.

Other Installments of this series (in progress).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Truman's Manure

Harry Truman made a speech at the Washington Garden Club. He praised the ladies for the good "manure" that used to fertilize the flowers. One of them asked Harry's wife, Bess if she could make him stop using such a vulgar word as "manure", especially since he was the President of the United States. She replied, "Heavens no. It took me 25 years to get him to say 'manure.'"

Friday, March 4, 2011

France's Wars: Gaul 58-51 BC

by Jack Le Moine

Did you ever notice that in almost every great war in history, France has been involved in some way? Here’s an example: Julius Caesar's Conquest of Gaul.

Summary: Julius Caesar conquered Gaul (the Roman’s term for the lands now France). His legions also raided into Brittania (England) and crossed the Rhine River (into Germany.

Background: Barbarians from north of the Alps had raided the Italian peninsula for centuries. By the middle of the 1st. century bc, Rome had expanded it’s holdings up to the mountain range. The area east of the range was falling under Roman control. In Rome, Julius Caesar had formed an alliance with Pompey and Crassus. Caesar’s part of the empire was north Italy (Cisalpine Gaul) and that part beyond the mountains that Rome controlled (Transalpine Gaul).

Meanwhile, barbarians in the German area were invading Gaul. A tribe allies with Rome asked Caesar for help.

Major Players:
1) France:Tribes of Gaul, facing invasions from other barbarian tribes from Germany and from the Romans

2) Other Countries:Rome, which by this time had become the major power in the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Germanic and Swiss tribes from the German area, and the Celtic tribes in Britannia.

3) The Leaders:Julius Caesar, heavily in debt and needing conquests for money and glory to further his political position in Rome. Vercingtorix, who lead all the Gallic tribes in a rebellion against the Roman conquerors and gave Caesar his most desperate fight at Alesia.

Vercingetorix's surrender to Caesar after the
Siege of Alesia in 52 BC.
Public Domain from Wikipedia.
Narrative: Caesar crossed the Alps and defeated the Germanic barbarian invasion of Gaul or 58 bc. In 57 bc, he defeated the most important of the Gallic tribes in the Belgium area. The other important tribes submitted to Rome and Caesar announced that Gaul was conquered. An unprecedented 15 day celebration was voted in Rome.

Revolts of various tribes and actions against the Germanic tribes occupied the middle period of the war. He conquered southwestern Gaul in 56 bc. In 55 bc, he answered raids from Germany by building a bridge across the Rhine in a matter of days, marching his army across it and devastating the area beyond. In 54 bc he crossed the Channel and raided Britannia. The following year, he crossed the Rhine again. With both the Britains and the Germans cowed, he and Rome both felt that Gaul was good and conquered and free from external troublemaking.

Vercingtorix struck in 53 bc, bring the war to its final and its most desperate phase. All Gaul rebelled against Rome. Caesar was defeated at the town that is the modern Clermont, besieged Vercingtorix in Alesia but was surrounded himself. Only the superior engineering skills and superior discipline saved the Roman army. When Vercingtorix’s forces inside Caesar’s lines were starved out, the Gallic War was at last over but for the mopping up.

Aftermath: Caesar wrote memoirs of the wars. These books ranks among the best military literature of history. Afterwards, he led portions of his army back into Italy where he crossed the Rubicon River in 49 and began the Roman Civil War. Gaul remained a Roman Province until the fall of the empire.

For Further Reading:

Caesar's Commentaries

Master ListNext War

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March History Blog Carnival

The March Carnival is up. This month's theme is diversity around the world. Here we learn that just after Black History Month (February) comes Women's History Month (March). Does this politically correct history ever stop?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Blogging Will Durant’s History of Civilization

Written history is at least six thousand years old. During half this period the center of human affairs, so far as they are now known to us, was the Near East.

These people occupied the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley in modern Iraq and may have developed the first civilization with agriculture, commerce, and writing thousands of years ago. Durant considers them the first civilization of history because they left written records behind.

The names of the city-states carry a special ring today: Akkad, Lagash, Ur – are these the last audio we have of their forgotten language?

About 2800 bc, a king, Sargon, conquered all of Sumeria and then the fertile crescent of land to the Mediterranean Sea. How could he have ruled such a vast territory? It was either with a very light hand or a higher level of administration than we normally associate with primitive civilizations. I suspect that the Sumerians advanced closer to classical civilization (e.g. Greece, Rome) than we are used to thinking.

Sumeria gets 20 pages in Durant.

Durant's Brief Outline
  1. The Historical Background
  2. Economic Life
  3. Government
  4. Religeon and Morality
  5. Letters and Arts
- From Book One, The Near East, Chapter VII. Sumeria.
I believe that this series is one of the great works of modern history literature. Its material is essential knowledge.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Menelaos Leaves Egypt

Previously in Herodotus

119. And Menelaos having come to Egypt and having sailed up to Memphis, told the truth of these matters, and not only found great entertainment, but also received Helen unhurt, and all his own wealth besides. Then however, after he had been thus dealt with, Menelaos showed himself ungrateful to the Egyptians; for when he set forth to sail away, contrary winds detained him, and as this condition of things lasted long, he devised an impious deed; for he took two children of natives and made sacrifice of them. After this, when it was known that he had done so, he became abhorred, and being pursued he escaped and got away in his ships to Libya; but whither he went besides after this, the Egyptians were not able to tell. Of these things they said that they found out part by inquiries, and the rest, namely that which happened in their own land, they related from sure and certain knowledge.

- Herodotus, Book II

More Information: Egypt, Herodotus's Book.