History Lessens

 

HISTORY LESSON

 

A Hundred years ago they tore down

Cleopatra’s tomb

and used the ancient bricks to build

a factory for sugar.

And everyone who ate their sugar agreed;

It tasted

sweeet.

 

Meanwhile,

the sacred mummies of millions of cats

were shipped by the ton to Europe,

to be ground up and used for fertilizer

on the fields of France.

Bast was not well pleased,

I’d guess, at a chance.

 

Human mummies however,

had a higher fate,

and were shipped in great mounds to America,

where the bandages and wrappings were pulped

& recycled for butchers paper.

Used to wrap sausages and such.

The bodies themselves

had a different use,

and were burnt as fuel for trains.

Cheaper than coal, I guess, Mark Twain

has a tale that he relates,

of an engine driver roaring to his mate,

as he feeds the dry and crackling corpses

into the fiery furnace;

“Jack, toss me another King here,

these commoners burn too slow!”

 

That was how they treated the past then,

You say, “that was long ago!”

But today the past is mainly something

upon which you stub your toe.

Just some old rock poking

up out of the ground,

till a use for it is found

and it becomes just another

 resource to be exploited.

 

Now is the same as then, though.

The Present has always consumed the Past

with a gargantuan gusto.

Its Natures Way, after all

look at the Hadrian’s Wall

or the Colleseum,

most of the stonework was stolen

to build barns and sties.

So build to the skies my friends!

Soar your skyscrapers high!

And a hundred years from now they’ll be

quarries for limestone & steel.

Foundations for tomorrow.

 

*************

 

 

*** 

BOOK OF THE WEEK:

“CAESAR’S LEGION”

“The Epic Saga of Julis Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion & the Armies of Rome” by Stephen Dando-Collins.(JohnWiley & sons 2002)

 

Gifted to me by my old compadre Fats Parameter, this study of the famous Xth Legion is perhaps the best book ever written on the Roman military machine. Australian historian Stephen Dando-Collins has spent 30 years researching his subject, drawing both on the ancient writers and the latest archeological findings. In particular he has mined the ancient literary sources well, deftly weaving diverse snippets into a coherant tale. In the process of following the Xth Legions epic history we learn much about the Roman army as a whole, as well as gaining a vivid picture of the convoluted political machinations of the late Republic and the fascinating personalities that inhabited it.

Aside from officers perhaps, none of the legionairres came from Rome, or even the Italian penninsula. As Dando-Collins tells us, all 28 of Augustus‘s legions were

“made up of Roman citizens from areas throughout the empire other than Italy south of the Po. Until the reign of Nero a hundred years later, when he recruited the Ist Italica legion in Italy proper, the only Roman troops recruited from that region were the men of the Praetorian Guard.”

Indeed, it was the Romans flexible approach to citizenship that allowed the Republic to thrive and grow over the centuries.

Thus, though a “Roman” legion in name, the Xth was in fact recruited in Spain. Caesar preferred Spanish recruits and the Xth legion was his favourite. He carefully trained them initially with protracted warfare against Spanish hillforts, honing especially their seige skills and displaying from the start his engineering genius. The Xth went on to mature as a fighting unit in Caesars campaigns in Britain & Gaul in the following years, including taking part in the largest naval invasion of Britain ever. They went on to play a decisive part in the battle of Pharsalas, where the Republic ended in all but name and the Roman Empire began its long dominion under the Caesars.

Julius Caesar followed Pompey to the grave not long after his last famous victory in North Africa, but the Xth legion continued as an entity for centuries, and its glory days were not over yet. We follow the Xth as it takes part in the epic seige of Jerusalem, and later crushes the Zealots of Masada. This involved the construction of massive engineering works that can be seen to this day at the isolated mountain stronghold. Ultimately the Xth spent its final years as a garrison Legion in the Middle East, a bulkwark against the Parthians, till it faded un-noticed from history amidst the wreckage of the Byzantine Empire.

An epic history indeed, and in following the career of this legion we learn much in the process. Dando -Collins is able to blend the big political picture with vivid personal portraits. Plus there’s lots of interesting little historical snippets to be picked up along the way. Like the fact that Julius Caesar started what was in effect the worlds first newspaper in 59B.C.E., the Acta Diurna or Daily News, hand written copies of which were distributed to every Roman offcial by the States highly efficient courier service. Or that the legionaries were largely vegetarian, marching mainly on a diet of bread, and went on strike once because they were being fed meat instead when the grain supply had ran low. Damned these cut-throat vegetarians! Bread & Circuses anyone?

A useful addition to the library of anyone interested in Roman or military history.

 

*********

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~ by reverendhellfire on September 19, 2010.

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