Hello, it’s been a while. Arwell was being an idiot the other day and suggested I start my blog up again, I thought about it, and because I’m bored and snowed in, I thought I’d oblige him. He was probably expecting a post about me being drunk or something though, not a 1500 word post about history. No idea if I’ll keep posting or not.
I’ve recently been listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts on my drives to and from work. They’re really good, long podcasts about history. The ones I’ve been listening to are about the fall of the Roman Empire. They added up to about 15 hours or something in total, so were definitely hardcore.
He talks about loads of stuff prior to Julius Caesar coming to power, but obviously that’s where the entire series is building up to. I knew the gist of what happens with Caesar because of just general history stuff you learn in school and also because of the TV programme Rome. But I knew nothing about anything before him, Gaius, Sulla, Cinna, the Gracchus brothers, Pompey (play on) Cicero, Cato, Crassus, all of them guys.
It’s pretty mental all the stuff that went on, just everyone getting killed as soon as they lost power, everyone lying about everything, everyone shagging everyone. It seems to me like it was basically a real life Westeros. But with even more guesswork on what actually happened than there is in ASOIAF, as at least everyone hopes we’ll find out what’s really happening in the books, but we don’t have a chance with ancient Rome.
After finishing the podcasts, I decided to re-watch Rome, I’m only a few episodes in, but it’s great actually understanding some of the minor plot points, or references that went way over my head before. Like the two main fictional characters Pullo and Lucius were arguing about the future and Lucius says something like “I’ll end up like one of those damned Gracchi” and Pullo goes “Who?!” because they’d died ages ago and he’s meant to be uneducated, but I sort of understood it. I imagine there’s load of other bits that will still go over my head though.
But the main topic of this post was going to be about Julius Caesar, as there’s some great little stories about him in the podcasts. For instance, when he was a young guy, he got kidnapped by pirates, and they set a ransom of 20 silver talents (I just had to look up what a talent was, it’s 32.3kg). Caesar got pissed off with that, because he thought they undervalued him, and made them lift it to 50.
He then sent his slaves off to fetch the money from back at home, and whilst they were gone he started writing poetry and reading it out to the pirates. They hated it and kept telling him so shut up, he called them uncultured savages and told them he was going to come back and kill them. I picture this a bit like the Vogons reading poetry to Ford and Arthur in Hitch-hiker’s guide, purposefully knowing it’s shit as a form of punishment.
When he got free he did come back and catch them all, and then crucified them. Carlin talks about how horrible crucifixion actually was, I’d never really thought about it. Apparently rather than big nails through your hands and feet (like what Jesus was), normally your arms and legs were roped to the cross, which still must’ve been shit. And you were just left there hanging, whilst you died of exposure after a few days, but in complete agony from your arms and legs cramping and dislocating. Apparently people used to beg the guards to break their legs, so that their arms would take all the weight and they’d slump down and strangle themselves on the rope. Or they’d try to get them to stab them to put them out of their misery. Sometimes if the begging wasn’t working they’d try to sell their clothes that they’re wearing to try and persuade them. If I was a guard, that’d probably put me off more, I wouldn’t want their horrible death clothes.
Onto a happier theme, Caesar was also a bit of a playa. Apparently he slept around with all the other powerful men of Rome’s wives and sisters. One senator called Cato was this really old fashioned senator that went by the book on everything, and everyone really respected him. One day he got pissed off with Caesar for not paying attention during senate meetings, and he had a go at him in front of everyone. During this, one of Caesar’s slaves snuck in and passed him a note, and Caesar read it. Cato saw this and was like “Hah, look at him, he’s not even paying attention now, he’s reading a note. Pass it here and I’ll read it out if it’s so important.” And it turned out to be a Roman version of a booty call off Cato’s sister. Burn.
Something that threw me was that apparently Caesar went bald really early, so shaved his head to hide it. But in nearly all the statues of him he’s shown with hair. He also chose to have his pubes plucked out by slaves, which sounds fucking horrible.
Carlin reckons he was a full on genius up there with Mozart, and that he was basically the greatest ruler ever, even though he also committed more than his fair share of genocide. Something he seemed unsure about was whether Caesar was actually as forgiving as he acted, or if it was all a ploy to get the public on their side. Like when his rivals lost battles to him, instead of killing them like a normal Roman would, he’d pardon them and let them live. When Cato lost to him, he killed himself rather than let Caesar forgive him.
I’m sure there were more interesting things that I had to say about him, but I can’t remember them at all.
There was a good story about a guy called Crassus, who was the richest man in Rome in Caesar’s time. He made loads of his money by setting up one of the first ever fire brigades. But instead of being helpful with it, he was a massive prick. There were fires quite a lot back then, and because the houses were so close together, they’d spread loads. So Crassus set up the fire brigade which was just a bunch of slaves with water buckets. And as soon as he heard about a fire, he’d head down there and say to the house owner, “either sell me your house for next to nothing, or we’ll let it burn down.” So if they sold it, he’d use his fire brigade to put it out, otherwise he’d let it burn down. But because the fires would spread, before his slaves put it out, he’d go to the other nearby house owners and say, “sell me your house for next to nothing, or i’ll let the fire spread”, so he ended up owning loads and loads of Rome. Pretty decent business strategy.
There was also a great quote from Pompey, when he was invading somewhere (maybe Rome) and some guy told him it was illegal and he said to him “Little man, don’t quote laws at men with swords”. It’s like out of a film, although I suppose it could’ve just been made up by whoever wrote it down. Either way, it’s a pretty good line.
It blows my mind that we know all this stuff, or at least the story version written down by the historians, and it happened 2000 years ago. But then we don’t really know anything at all that happened in the dark ages over here. Lazy, illiterate bastards not bothering to write anything down.
I’d advise everyone with an interest in history to listen to the podcasts, they’re intense, but great. I’m going to start on his Mongolian empire podcasts next week. And I’d advise everyone who likes TV to watch Rome, it’s like a precursor to the Game of Thrones/Spartacus style tv, violence, sex and politics. The first series is amazing, the second is very rushed because TV executives are dickheads and they cancelled what should’ve been about 3 more series so it was compressed into one.
If anyone knows any good books to read about that sort of thing, please let me know. I don’t have a clue where to start. And obviously I only know all of this from the podcasts and the TV programme, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on any of that stuff, which I probably am.
It’s made me really want to go to Rome and see all the old stuff that’s still there. But if the film Jumper has taught me anything, it’s that the Roman ruins are full of massive irritants.
Also, after not posting on wordpress for years, this new layout is shit, is it trying to be tumblr?