Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 56 - Spread of Christianity

The Early Middle Ages (476-799 CE) were characterized by a rapid spread of Christianity. Conversions of other population groups in the North and East would follow (eg.  Scandinavia by 1000 CE) but by 800 CE Western Europe was largely a Christian entity with the Latin church based in Rome. The following outlines how Christianity spread beyond its Southern European core to the rest of the continent.

Table 12 The Spread of Christianity in Western Europe

Region/Population Group
Agent of Initial Conversion
Christianity spread to Ireland from Roman Britain in the 5th century. St. Patrick a Romano-Britain missionary and future patron saint of Ireland is believed to have played a key role. The introduction of private penance is thought to have been an Irish innovation.
Irish missionaries Columba and Columbans are credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland.
Anglo-Saxon England
Converted by the mission of St. Augustine and Gregory the Great.
Franks of Gaul
Adopted Christianity after the conversion of the Merovingian king Clovis I.

Frisians and Low Countries
Conversion driven by the Northumbrian Monk Willibrod who was commissioned by Pope Segius I.
German Franks
Conversion was driven by an Anglo-Saxon mission led by Saint Boniface.

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 55 - The Rise and Fall of the Merovingians

The Merovingians are the oldest French dynasty having emerged from Salian Frank origins in the Mid 5th Century. The dynasty’s founder was Childeric I but its greatest king was Clovis I (481-511). Clovis defeated the Roman ruler Syagrius in 486 and the Alemanni in 496 uniting most of Northern Gaul above the Loire under his control. He would later go on to defeat the Visigoths but he is most remembered for spreading Christianity in his Kingdom after he adopted the Christian Nicene faith of his wife Clotilda.

Merovingian kings were known for their distinctive long hair (that contrasted with the short hair of the Franks) and there is much legend that surrounds their feats that is associated with both miracles and a type of hagiography. However by the 8th century their power was largely ceremonial with real force residing with the Mayors of the Palace (household managers). In 751 CE one of these Mayors, Pepin the Short, deposed the last Merovingian king to establish the Carolingian dynasty.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Challenges to Western Civilization

  1. Western Civilization has been opposed by various force-dynamics or barbarisms in the past. Some of these force-dynamics have been products of the outside world others were creations from within. All are problematic, some have been overcome but others remain as an epidemic that future generations will have to deal with.  These are:
·         Feudalism – Ended by the Renaissance, the Age of Exploration, early urbanization and the birth of the modern economy;
·         The Domination of the Totalitarian Church – Eventually Eclipsed by the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Rise of  Reason and Science;
·         Powers of the Aristocracy – Ended by both the violent and non-violent bourgeoisie revolution, liberalism and nationalism;
·         Fascism – Defeated by the Western Democracies in World War II;
·         Communism – Defeated by the Economic Machine of the United States;
·         Islamism – A struggle that still continues;
·         Post Modernism – A challenge in progress – a consequence of intellectual nihilism and misguided cynicism;
·         Greed Capitalism – A dangerous but age old phenomenon that still survives

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 54 - The Rise and Fall of the Byzantine Empire

The Byzantium Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire had its origin in the city of Constantinople founded in 330 CE by Constantine on the Ancient Greek City of Byzantium. It grew into an important center in and around 395 CE following the split of the Roman Empire into East and West portions and unlike the West which fell in 476 CE persisted and indeed flourished until the fall of Constantinople to Arab forces in 1453.

The greatest Byzantine Emperor was Justinian who took power in 526 CE and then advanced to re-conquer parts of the Fallen Western Roman Empire – in Italy, North Africa and Spain – from the various Germanic tribes. It was Justinian who codified Roman Law into one document and built the incredible Hagia Sofia Church in Constantinople (it is a Mosque today).

However his gains were short lived. The Lombards drove the Byzantines out of Italy in 568 and from 610 onwards considerable territory in Syria, Palestine and Egypt was lost to the expanding Muslim forces. The Empire would also change its language from Latin to Greek under the 7th century Emperor Heraclius.

Muslim attacks persisted from land and Sea but Constantinople held firm beating off the invaders in 693 and 717-718. Territory continued to be lost to the Arabs although Asia Minor was recovered in 721.

In 726 Leo III banned the use of Icons in the Empire as graven images of the divine–the use of Icons was restored in 843 following what would be later called the ‘Inconoclast Controversy’.

In the 10th century the Byzantines struggled against a new enemy the Bulgars who overran Thrace but failed to take Constantinople. The Russians also attacked the Byzantines but suffered the loss of their fleet in 941.

However it wasn’t until the reign of Basil II that the Byzantines enjoyed a renaissance. This new Emperor would retake Syria from the Muslims in 995 and finally drive the Bulgars out of Greece in the following year earning himself the epithet in 1014 after his final destruction of the Bulgaroktonos (Bulgar slayer).

Nevertheless the Byzantines could not hang on to their gains after Basil’s death. In 1055 they lost Southern Italy to the Normans and then twenty years later surrendered Syria to the Muslims. The Turks secured a major victory against the Byzantines in 1071 at Manzikert. Thrace fell in 1087 and Asia Minor was lost in 1179.

Even Constantinople would eventually be occupied by Western knights who succeeded in conquering the city in 1204 and establishing a Latin Empire in the newly acquired territory.

Constantinople was restored to the Byzantine Empire in 1261 but its fall in 1453 at the hands of the Ottoman Turks signalled the end of an Empire that at one time represented the essence of what was Rome.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Personal Reflections VIII - More Thoughts on Ein Sof

I like the Kabbalistic concept of Ein Sof, which translates as ‘without an end’. This makes the extended point that to truly define the essence is to actually limit. 

 All power I believe ultimately resides with the Ein Sof which cannot be fully articulated, reduced or even truly conceptualized, however its presence is ubiquitous. 

1      We are individual souls derived from the Ein Sof. Our abstraction from the Ein Sof does not in any way reduce the Ein Sof as it supersedes the material.

       The laws of physics do not limit the Ein Sof as all its constraints and realities are ultimately a product of the Ein Sof.  The Ein Sof is consequently the cause of why something as opposed to nothing exists.

1.      As Ein Sof Derived Souls (known hence forth as ESDS) we can interact with the Ein Sof by following the path of goodness.  This involves the extension of our sense of self and a concerted focus on the positive growth of our being and the assistance of others.

1     Several world religions have addressed this dynamic but have unfortunately allowed themselves to lose focus in the vortex of cultural noise. Meaningful belief has to extend beyond this ‘noise’ to reclaim the connection with the Ein Sof. This brings us the most meaningful joy.

1.      The direct approach toward the goodness involves the elucidation of perspective. This substantiates itself in a prioritization of goals, daily events and thoughts. Perspective is a triage for the mind, it places our challenges in context so that we never lose sight of the goodness of the Ein Sof. 

      We must be thankful for what we have. I call this a consolidation of reality. Once such a step has been undertaken the mind framework towards the goodness is rooted. This catalyzes the drive.

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 53 - Great Migration of the Eastern People (or the Barbarian Invasion).

From the Fourth century CE onwards both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires were subjected to vast hordes of migrants people of Eastern and Northern origin. Eventually these groups would bring down the Western Empire, drive back the Celtic and Latin populations and re-draw the political map of the west. Such groups included:

  1. Visigoths – Western branch of the Gothic people. The Visigoths defeated the Romans at Adrianople (378 CE) and then under their leader Alaric sacked Rome in 410 CE. They moved into France but were driven out by the Franks in 507 CE eventually establishing a kingdom in Spain. Visigoth power in Spain was ended by the Arabs/Berbers in 711/712 CE.
  2. Ostrogoths – Eastern branch of the Gothic people. The Ostrogoths traded heavily with the Romans migrating westwards under pressure from the Huns. They would eventually conquer the Italian kingdom of Odoacer establishing their own power base under Theodoric the Great. Ostrogoth power would deteriorate in the face of Byzantine advancement in Italy in the 6th century CE with much of its population eventually being absorbed into the Lombard kingdom
  3. Vandals – An Eastern Germanic people the Vandals swept westward from territory in Poland establishing kingdoms in Spain and later North Africa. They clashed with the Gothic groups but continued moving westward under Hunnic pressure.  In 429 CE they entered North Africa under the king Genseric and in 455 CE sacked Rome. However their power collapsed in 533-34 when they were defeated by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the Vandalic Wars. The great vandal legacy today resonates in the word ‘vandalism’ which has become synonymous with senseless destruction and the defacing of artwork (a linkage that evokes the 455 CE sacking).
  4. Franks – A Germanic Group who would succeed the Romans as the eventual masters of much of France, Germany and the Lower Countries from the 5th – 9th century CE. The Franks would emerge as the possible successors of the Western Roman Empire through the legacy of the Merovingians and the Carolingians.
  5. Saxons - Germanic tribe dominant in the low Countries, Jutland and Northern Germany. The Saxons and another tribe the Angles would eventually conquer most of England following the collapse of Roman Rule on the island in the 5th century CE. Much of their gains would occur at the expense of the local Celtic groups.
  6. Huns – A Nomadic group from the Caucus regions. It is often argued that the Huns started the great Migration by their Western drive. The greatest Hunnic warrior was Atilla who became co-ruler with his brother Bleda in 437 CE and sole ruler in 445. His forces dominated much of the interior of Eastern Europe and gained strength as they pressed into Gaul.  He plundered the Western Roman Empire and extorted the East  but was defeated in 451 by a coalition force led by the Roman General Aetius at the Battle of Catalaunian Planes. In 452 he invaded Northern Italy but a year later died of haemorrhage on his wedding Night. Hunnic dominance in Central and Eastern Europe would eventually be broken in 454 with the defeat of the Huns by a tribal grouping that included the Gepids, Heruli, Rugi, Scirii and Subebi.
  7. Burgundians – A Vandal group that were one time allies of the Huns.  They are thought to have originated in Poland and eventually settled into the region of France that bears their name.
  8. Lombards – Another Germanic people who would dominate the Italian peninsula from 558 to 774 CE. The Kingdom of Italy that they founded reached its peak under the rule of Liutprand in the 8th century. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 52 - Roman Contribution to Western Civilization

It would be a great oversight to assume that the Romans were nothing more than a military power as their contribution to Western Civilization is immense. In architecture they were known for their Domes, Frescoes and Mosaics. They were accomplished road builders and graced their domains with Aqueducts (to transport water) and viaduct bridges (that spanned valleys). Roman stadiums and Amphitheaters were the ancestors of today’s modern entertainment venues.
In addition the Romans distinguished themselves in wine making, central heating, public baths and cement/mortar pioneering.

Their language (Latin), alphabet and legal system impacted all civilizations that fell under their hegemony and they had a significant impact in such differing areas as the idea of the three-course meal, the Julian Calendar and several yearly festivals.

The following is a list of twelve Romans (other than the military figures described earlier) who helped enrich this great culture.

Table 11 Roman Cultural Figures of Note

Figure of Distinction
               Agrippa Marcus Vispania (64 BCE –12 BCE)
Architect. General. Masterminded the Naval victory at Actium (31 BCE). Built many baths, porticoes and gardens. Helped transform Rome into a Marble city.
                Cicero (106-43 BCE)
Orator, Lawyer, Political theorist of great distinction. Enemy of Mark Anthony. Famous for his Series of Speeches.
Horace (65-8 BCE)
Lyric poet. Lived at the time of Augustus. Known for his hexameter verses and Lambic Poetry.
Juvenal (1st century CE)
Poet and writer. Also known for his satire – Satires of Juvenal (Five Books).
Livy (c.64 BCE-17CE)
Historian. Lived at the time of the Early Julio-Claudian Emperors. Served as an advisor to Claudius. Most famous work is the History of Rome.
Ovid (43BCE –17/18 CE)
Great canonical poet. Wrote the classic Metamorphoses. Clashed with the Emperor Augustus.
Pliny the Elder (23 CE-79CE)
Author, scientist and philosopher. Wrote an encyclopaedic work (the forerunner of modern encyclopaedias) known as Naturalis Historia. Influenced his nephew Pliny the Younger.
Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BCE to 65 CE)
Stoic Philosopher. Dramatist and Statesman. Important Figure in the Silver Age of Latin Literature. Stoicism argued for the importance of virtue in the face of natures trials and tribulations.
Tacitus (c. 56 CE – 117 CE)
Historian and Senator. Detailed events from 14 to 70 CE.
Virgil (70 BCE- 19 BCE)
Poet of the Augustan Period. Most famous work is the epic poem the Aenid that was modeled after Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
Vitruvius (c. 80 BCE- c. 15 BCE)
Very influential architect. Wrote the multi-volume work De architecture.