Thursday, February 04, 2010

Today In History: the fiends you leave behind.

On this date in 211AD, Septimius Severus choked on his last cookie, leaving the empire to his two sons, the brothers Geta and Caracalla.

Severus had been, on balance, a mediocre emperor. Suspicious to the point of paranoia, he had job lots of senators whacked for conspiracies both real and imaginary, and elevated fawning toadies to replace them. Similarly, he had no head for finance, and could be talked by his buddies into doing all manner of silly things, like appointing them Praetorian Prefect.

On the other hand, he knew which end of the spear got stuck in the barbarian, and he kept the heathens on the right side of their rivers, and when the woad-wearing savages north of the wall got uppity, he administered them a stomping, too. And he was popular with the plebs and those aristocrats he didn't decapitate because he possessed the charming quality of Not Being Commodus, a trait that was very much appreciated in Rome at the time.

History will judge him harshly, though, because he either had some demons lurking in his Y chromosome or he was a lousy parent. His younger son, Geta, was merely petulant and greedy, but that's to be expected from one raised to the purple. Geta's elder sibling, Caracalla, however, was a poisonous toad as psychotic as a Julio-Claudian on a bad hair day. He barely waited for dad's corpse to cool before having his brother iced by soldiers while in their mother's arms, and his conduct got worse from there to the point where he was finally shivved in the liver by one of his own bodyguards while answering nature's call along the roadside.

EDIT: After writing this, I discovered that I had discussed it last year as well. I can't help it; it's just such a colorful bit of history. Especially the "having your brother whacked in your mom's condo" part. That demonstrates some serious issues, you know?


og said...

it's colorful when you tell it. Reading about it in the original is just another droning history lesson. If I had you for a history teacher I'd know a lot more about the Empire than I do.

Of course, that would involve time travel, and more than the usual permissiveness on the part of the Vatican.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the survival the the Empire is a monument of having iced all the serious opposition countries and having no where for people to flee to.

Headed by psycho's and administered by the worst sort of economic illiterates and lawyers.

It's always amusing to read how relieved the actual people were to be administered by the drunken violent barbarians who invited themselves in towards the end. At least with them and the church you knew where you stood, a modest tithe to the church, and your daughter to the barbarian, not like the rapacious bureaucrats.

Tam said...

That might be oversimplifying something around half a millennium of history somewhat.

Themadlemming said...

You know, with your telling of it, you could change the names and put it in modern times...

Bob said...

I went through a period of writing Ogden Nash-style poetry, and one of them concerned a lesser-known Roman emperor:

Emperor Maximinus Thrax
Skilled in war, inept in pax.
When funding for his armies lacks
Corrects it with a nova tax.

wv: gismsops: related to milksops, obviously...

Bob said...

Oh, hell, I remembered another one:

Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Stoically died of a pain
In the bellius.

perlhaqr said...

Hey, see? Things could be worse. The Won could be charging us a million bucks each time he appears on the TeeWee.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ed Foster said...

What Brandon, Nathan Brindle, and I said last year.

And anonymous, Rome existed for 2,214 years (founding, 753 B.C. to fall of Trabizond 1461 A.D.). They must have been doing something right at least some of the time.

When the Romans took over Greece, there was a three year "war" around Athens, mostly as a sap to Athenian pride. But predominantly, the Greeks were quite happy to be part of the empire.

One army to support instead of twenty, centuries of peace, good roads to let goods flow cheaply instead of being born expensively by ship, and considerable upward mobility.

Two or three large factories for making shields or plows or amphorae, instead of thousands of local craftsmen working when they felt like it, dropped prices for most and encouraged larger scale trade.

Legitimate law courts that saw past most of the oligarchic predjudices of the earlier city states.

Nothing lasts forever, but they had a better run than anybody other, with those willing to assimilate doing far better than they had done on their own.

And the influence of it still shapes our lives today. Look at almost any government building, read our language (hint,it ain't runic or ogham).

When my parents were born, the Germans still had a Kaiser and the Russians a Czar, both corruptions of Caesar. Almost 28 centuries, and it's still part of us.

Compare the Roman empire to the Assyrian, which offered nothing but conquest, abuse, and massive taxes, and which fell apart from the expense and bureaucratic inertia caused by maintaining a constant war footing while riding herd on dozens of fractious populations.

There was a difference. Don't judge it all by what happened at the end. That's like looking at Pelosi, Reid, and Obama and comparing them to Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington

Aaron said...

Caracalla (portrait of coin with him on it is here) was certainly quite an interesitng character.

One problem with his death is that it restarted the asking of the question of the commander of the Praetorian Guards as to how he could become emperor. The answer of course was to kill the emperor and assume the throne, leading to a whole bunch of multiple emeperors over the next 36 years after his death as a number of praetorians knocked off their emperors or legionary commanders openly rebeled and turned on the emperors.

It also kicked off a lot of inflation due to the necessity of increasing troop pay both for loyalty and for bribes to switch sides and install a contender as emperor.

Lewis said...

Tam, sounds like you'd groove on Dan Carlin's Hard Core History, great little podcasts. My favorite is his iteration of "Steppe Stories" just because Central Asia is so damn cool, but I've enjoyed all of the five or six I've listened to so far.

History summations can lead you into some strange, strange wikiwanders.