Brown writes that Christian leaders had to carefully deploy Church resources, spiritual and financial, to create a new society to take over after the Roman one had collapsed. In the place of Roman municipal buildings and fortresses came Christian basilicas, monasteries and what Brown brilliantly calls “a coral reef of institutions devoted to intercession,” hospitals, hostels and eventually schools administered by the Church. This was the civilization of the Middle Ages, the foundation of a new vision for the Western world.
The whip-smart dialogue, as fans of the series well know, forms a giddy counterpoint to an operatic plot featuring just about every permutation of sex and death imaginable. There’s also John Hurt as Caligula, in a gold bikini and makeup Hurt applied himself, because the BBC makeup girls couldn’t make it tasteless enough, dancing the role of goddess of the dawn in a ballet of Caligula’s own devising before a terrified audience who know they must applaud or die.
After Christianity was recognized as the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 380, a number of Christian groups, notably monks in Egypt, changed roles from martyrs to persecutors. A magnificent head of Aphrodite, dating to first century Athens, bears the marks of Christian vandalism. The eyes and lips have been chipped to “blind” and “silence” the deity. A cross was then inscribed on the forehead of Aphrodite.
Carthage, however, was not merely conquered by Rome. As the title of Miles’ book asserts, Carthage was destroyed. In three brutal wars, Carthage’s military power was annihilated by the legions of the Roman Republic. The city was ransacked and burned, down to its foundations. The people of Carthage were massacred or enslaved. The literature of the city was put to the torch. Not a stone was left upon a stone.
Pity Duane W. Roller, author of Cleopatra: A Biography. I can just imagine the initial conversation at the Oxford University Press: “We want you to write a biography of Cleopatra, sensuous queen of the Egyptians, famed figure of ancient history.” “Excellent, as Professor Emeritus of Greek and Latin at The Ohio State University, I’d be thrilled to delve into a world of intrigue and shifting political sands.” “Good. But no sex, please, we’re British.”
When its doors first opened in 1734, the Capitoline Museum, which stands upon the hilltop that is the very heart of Rome, was one of the first European public museums and a favorite haunt of the wealthy Grand Tourists from all over Europe. As of July 30 this venerable museum offers something novel to all tourists—a chance for a fresh look at a relatively neglected period of Roman history and the arts, the Middle Ages.
Goldsworthy takes many of the reasons advanced by earlier scholars and shows them to be of far less significance than is often believed. In some cases, many of the old explanations are simply incorrect. Rome’s growing reliance upon “barbarian” troops, for instance, more often helped to safeguard its frontiers than to threaten them. Nor did rusty drain pipes, moral depravity or savage Hun raiders storming across the Eurasian steppes knock Rome off its pedestal.
Nevertheless, in my personal library there are 130 books on Pompeii. Of all these, this is the one I would choose to read first.
But with the death of Julian we have something different. To all intents and purposes we can say that paganism died as a credible political and social force in the last days of June 363.
“That said, the thinking that lay behind the invasion of Iraq—the notion that we could transform a society more or less overnight, and in the process “jumpstart democracy” in the entire Middle East—was a colossal act of hubris. And it was essentially a Roman act. It was undertaken with America-centric motives, and with little understanding of the people on the receiving end, or of their ability to oppose us. Those haunting words from Velleius—’as if on a picnic’—pretty much sum up our approach to this and to too many other things.”