I see such a metaphor for human forces here: how whatever Pope Urban II and Emperor Alexius had in mind for this holy war/armed pilgrimage, things quickly escalated out of their control and the message and mission as it came to actually be almost swept both men right off their feet. Never underestimate the power of human passion! Although doomed to failure and disaster, the first wave of people (under Peter the Hermit) to attempt the approach to the Holy Land would have important effects on how both the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantine Greeks perceived the following waves—underestimations both groups would later come to regret.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

Pictured:

  • Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire
  • Map of Europe and the Near East at the time of the First Crusade. Sorry for the French: it was the only quality free map for the time period I could find!
  • 11th Century French knight. Note the difference in helmet style from what you might have imagined, and the armor that looks like fish scale rather than linked plates. The “classic” image of the knight comes from a later period.
  • Pope Urban II
  • Norman knights and archers, 1066

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Crusades 2nd Edition, by Hans Eberhard Mayer (translated by John Gillingham)

Part of my introduction to the Crusades, through my studies at Cornell University and progress to a specialty in this period. Mayer does an excellent job detailing the many different forces at work. It’s dense for the average reader and probably not for someone unwilling to come to grips with college-level writing, but the depth and quality of the analysis can’t be ignored.

The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith

And/or… you could tackle this one. Riley-Smith is another premier historian of the period, and while less in-depth than Mayer, he’s a little more “readable.” He’s also valuable as companion to Mayer for the contrast in analysis and in the decisions of what to emphasize and what to downplay. How the two men each describe the fateful sack of Jerusalem in 1099 is an illuminating look into the biases of both.

Chronicles of the First Crusade (Penguin Classics), edited by Christopher Tyerman

It can be very hard to find well-edited and readable compilations of first-hand accounts from events in the medieval period. For that, this book is solid gold. Tyerman has done an excellent job assembling the best of the accounts from the people who lived through this extraordinary event in history.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!

“Crusade” is a loaded word, and often code for the “bad” history in the cultural heritage of Western Europe. In this episode, I set the stage for some of the real characters in this widely misunderstood period, discussing the brutal realities of medieval Europe and the basis for anybody would be so “crazy” as to declare holy war.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pictured:

  • Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire
  • Map of Europe and the Near East at the time of the First Crusade. Sorry for the French: it was the only quality free map for the time period I could find!
  • 11th Century French knight. Note the difference in helmet style from what you might have imagined, and the armor that looks like fish scale rather than linked plates. The “classic” image of the knight comes from a later period.
  • Pope Urban II
  • Norman knights and archers, 1066

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Crusades 2nd Edition, by Hans Eberhard Mayer (translated by John Gillingham)

Part of my introduction to the Crusades, through my studies at Cornell University and progress to a specialty in this period. Mayer does an excellent job detailing the many different forces at work. It’s dense for the average reader and probably not for someone unwilling to come to grips with college-level writing, but the depth and quality of the analysis can’t be ignored.

The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith

And/or… you could tackle this one. Riley-Smith is another premier historian of the period, and while less in-depth than Mayer, he’s a little more “readable.” He’s also valuable as companion to Mayer for the contrast in analysis and in the decisions of what to emphasize and what to downplay. How the two men each describe the fateful sack of Jerusalem in 1099 is an illuminating look into the biases of both.

Chronicles of the First Crusade (Penguin Classics), edited by Christopher Tyerman

It can be very hard to find well-edited and readable compilations of first-hand accounts from events in the medieval period. For that, this book is solid gold. Tyerman has done an excellent job assembling the best of the accounts from the people who lived through this extraordinary event in history.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!

The story of “How the West Was Won” (ie. how native people were pushed into tiny corners of the North American continent or exterminated) has many unexpected elements as well as true clichés. We’ll explore one small but symbolic episode of that history in this episode, drawing (in part) on a very unusual source: the autobiography of a native woman that learned to read and write English, survived war, and became a famous speaker for her people.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

Sand in A Whirlwind, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Paiute Indian War Of 1860, by Ferol Egan

This is truly “history as story” and a great place to start for people who want to get deeper into the characters and events of this episode before exploring primary sources.

Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins

Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins has a controversial legacy. On the one hand, she mastered American language and culture enough to become a famous vocal advocate for her people, despite losing loved ones in war with the United States. On the other, she assisted the US Army in its war and advocated the assimilation of her people into modern American life, abandoning many of their cultural traditions in the process. Either way, this writing is a sort of Holy Grail in the history of the American West: the primary source written purely from the perspective of a native woman. If you want to know something important about this period in American history, this is essential reading.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post and sharing your favorite part of the episode!

You can also purchase an Edge of History t-shirt! We have them for sale for $13 and $16 and you can pick one up over on our Support page. All proceeds help us to pay our hosting fees and create more content. 

Thank You!

The Spartans have a legendary name in military history, only partly earned. I discuss that legend and the time when a motley group of lightly-armed patriots, led by an unlikely general, popped that legend’s over-inflated bubble.

Check out this episode!

Glossary:

Hoplite: Heavy infantryman in the ancient Greek style. He was expected to furnish his own weapons and armor, which would be of varying amount and quality. Essential equipment included a long wooden shield with embossed metal, a helmet, a spear, sword, and sometimes a dagger. The sword and dagger were basically side-arms, because the spear was the star of the show: anywhere from 6 to 9 feet long, it was the prime mover in the “phalanx” warfare of the day, where hoplites marched in tight order, shields partially covering themselves and the guy next to them, the spear (almost certainly) stabbed in an over-arm motion. Phalanx combat being straightforward, each line of hoplites would push forward, attempting to disrupt the enemy line and push it backwards. Downed opponents could be finished off by a spike mounted on the bottom of the spear as the line moved forward.

Sparta: Prominent Greek city state. Greece at the time consisted of many independent city-states, each with distinct governments and often at odds with the others. Greeks had a natural affinity for each other over “foreigners,” but this affinity did nothing to diminish their fierce rivalries. Sparta was famous for the quality of its warriors and for creating a system specifically to make them professional. Moat other Greek hoplites had other occupations and only trained and fought when their city was at war; Spartans had a state system to support their full-time training. This was in part supported by their enslavement of the Messenian people, creating a class known as ‘helots’ that did the work otherwise neglected by the Spartan professional warriors.

Athens: Prominent Greek city state. The Athenians pioneered a form of limited direct democracy, building a successful empire around it in the fifth century BC. While fielding classic hoplite armies (and using them to famously defeat much larger Persian ones), Athens became known for her trade network, supported by her innovative, high-quality navy. Athenian sailors were easily the best in the region, being as they were professional free men, as opposed to the slaves who frequently worked the boats of other city-states. This in turn allowed for tactically superior assault boats, used to great effect against her enemies. By the time of the Peloponnesian War, Athens was easily the wealthiest and most powerful Greek city state.

Thespiae and Plateaea: small Greek city states. Thespiae bears mentioning in the context of this episode chiefly because the Spartans historically get all the credit for the heroic “last stand,” at Thermopylae, but 700 hoplites fell alongside them after the final Persian encirclement, when it was known to be suicide to continue fighting. Plataea was a staunch ally of Athens for generations, defying both massive Persian armies and threatening Spartans.

Peloponnesian War: Three-part conflict between Athens and Sparta for domination of the Aegean Sea (and, by extension, ancient Europe), that occurred from about 431 BC to 404 BC. Despite vast wealth, and an innovative mindset fostered by its proto-democratic society, Athens bungled its way to total defeat. Much of Greek dominance of the ancient world evaporated with the widespread destruction and impoverishment that resulted from the conflict. While Sparta was the “winner,” her prosperity did not last long.

spartan map 1

Persian Empire: Massive domain covering most of the Middle and Near East, ruled by the “King of Kings” seated in modern-day Iran. They had displaced the Babylonians and were famously wealthy and powerful, even by ancient imperial standards. They were capable of fielding gargantuan (for the time) armies of over 100,000 men from all over their dominion. Their numerous defeats and struggles at the hands of much smaller Greek armies in the early fifth century BC (Marathon in 490 BC, Salamis in 480 BC, Plataea in 480 BC, and Eurymedon 469 BC) form the basis of many ‘David and Goliath’ stories that have captured the popular imagination of Western Civilization for thousands of years.

Persian_Empire,_490_BC

Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC): the foundation of the Spartan legend. Faced with a massive Persian invasion, King Leonidas of Sparta quickly moved with a small force of Spartans, Plataeans, and Thespians to block their advance in the mountain pass of Thermopylae. The naturally defensible position and the far superior quality and bravery of the Greek hoplites enabled them to hold off the Persian army for a few days, despite being outnumbered by (debatable) figures of 30+ to 1. Betrayed in the end by a traitor who showed the Persians a path around the Greeks, who were then encircled, the Spartan-led hoplites were killed to the last man. Their actions, however, bought the rival Athenians time to prepare their fleet: a development that would save Greece from Persian domination.

Battle of Marathon (490 BC): the first great victory of Greek hoplites against a much larger Persian invading force. Through a quick strike, the better-trained, better-equipped, and much more highly-motivated Athenian soldiers decisively defeated the Persians in an “upset” victory. The battle passed into legend, not only for its identity-saving quality (protecting Greece from foreign influence, a mark of great pride among Greeks everywhere), but for the invention of the Marathon—the imagined distance sprinted by an Athenian runner to give news of the victory before the city of Athens could submit to the blockading Persian fleet.

Prominent episode characters

Athenians: Pericles, Cleon, Demosthenes

Spartans: Leonidas, Agis

Thucydides: primary historian of the Peloponnesian War. He lived through the events, first serving as a soldier and general in the Athenian army before being wrongly exiled on trumped-up charges.

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Landmark Thucydides

Thucydides is, quite simply, the man. It’s so hard to find anything close to what we call ‘objectivity’ in ancient historians. It was taken for granted that telling a good story, imparting a moral, or showing your people in the best possible light was as much a part of history as the facts. Thucydides stood out for his stated attempt to focus on facts when we wrote about the Peloponnesian War. What also helps us in reading him were the circumstances of his life: as an important Athenian who was essentially screwed by the system he was trying to defend, he makes for an ideal witness, as what we can assume would have been his natural Athenian bias was balanced by his experience.

Donald Kagan’s work: Kagan wrote THE definitive history of the Peloponnesian War in four parts, called by one critic the foremost work of history by an American in the 20th century—pretty mind-boggling praise. Aside from this, Kagan was a highly-acclaimed professor at Cornell and Yale and brilliant mind. The four parts of his history are:

He’s also got a condensed version called “The Peloponnesian War” for those desiring a less comprehensive look at the conflict.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links on the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon. When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

You can also purchase an Edge of History t-shirt! We have them for sale for $13 and $16 and you can pick one up over on our Support page. All proceeds help us to pay our hosting fees and create more content. 

Thank You!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

 

Before you listen…

By the late second century BC, the Roman Republic had persevered and conquered through many disasters: so many, in fact, that conquest and eventual victory were taken for granted. In response to a barbaric tribal threat, a small group of selfish and complacent Roman aristocrats would bungle Rome into a catastrophe that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. The price for eventual victory would be freedom itself, as events were set in motion that would destroy the Republic and replace it with the autocratic Empire.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

Fall of the Roman Republic by Plutarch

Plutarch wrote 150 years after the events of this book, but had quite a flair for biography. The story of the fall of the Republic is told through the “lives” of six several very important Romans, and the reforms of Gaius Marius kick off the list. Want to know how a civilization can crumble through the ambitions of its great aristocrats? Prepare to be educated.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links on the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon. When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

You can also purchase an Edge of History t-shirt! We have them for sale for $13 and $16 and you can pick one up over on our Support page. All proceeds help us to pay our hosting fees and create more content. 

Thank You!

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

 

Before you listen…

The samurai era conjures up many ideas for most of us: honor codes, poetry, tradition, and splendid warriors with legendary swords. This image was never truly accurate, but it was gone by the 1540s. The once-glorious capital was half in ashes, the old lords had nearly all been destroyed, and the country had been in anarchy for two generations. It was a time of total disaster, but also a time in which the class structure was fluid enough that a simple peasant would rise in time to reunify Japan, restore the prestige of the samurai … and erase any opportunity for men like him to do the same again.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading….

Hideyoshi by Mary Elizabeth Berry

The best and most expert source for the true history of the life of the great man, as well as the greater context of the Japan that had come before him and the Japan in which he lived.

A History of Japan 1334 – 1615 by George Sansom

Sansom was a beast at narrative history in the old style, when the idea was to tell the story of the facts in a compelling way rather than to get yourself published for saying something, anything, new. This is my main reference for the whole fascinating period from the ascendancy of the first Shogunate to the dawn of the last.

Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan by Eiji Yoshikawa

For fun, high drama, visual detail, and a more immersive reading experience, this historical fiction biography of Hideyoshi is a great read!

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links on the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon. When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

Thank you!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

 

Before you listen…

Guerrilla wars are hard to fight under any circumstances—as a guerrilla, you are typically outgunned and outnumbered in any one battlefield, and must deal with constant shortages in supply, medical equipment, and ammunition. Some of the few advantages to being a guerrilla are that at least you can blend in with the local population to hide when you are not fighting, and usually that population and its culture far outnumber your enemy’s army. How do you manage, then, when you have no ethnic and little cultural relation to that population, and the enemy’s armed forces are such that they outnumber the entire mass of the people for whom you are fighting—when the sheer weight of your religious faith has brought you to fight on behalf of an oppressed people, despite all of the obvious obstacles? Such was the mission of the greatest guerrilla commander of our generation, known as Ibn-al-Khattab, and his incredible successes against the full might of the Russian Army in the tiny republic of Chechnya are worth recounting.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

A proper history of Khattab’s life has yet to be written, and may never be. The notable events of his life are too intertwined with wars, conflicts, and tragedies that remain fresh or are even ongoing. Many of the villains and heroes that were his friends and enemies remain alive, still actively coloring the way he is perceived with the agendas they have, from the jihadists who want to claim him as their own to the secular powers (and scholars) who want to group him in with the Bin Ladens of the world. The Russian government and its vast font of information: misinformation, disinformation, and everything in between, counts him as a primary figure in extreme Islamic “Wahabism.” Even Shamil Basayev, super-villain, nationalist hero, appropriator of extremist Muslim ideology and erstwhile ally of Khattab, knew better: “He is not a Wahabist; he is a Khattabist.” So much for a clear picture and a balanced biography.

He can partially be understood through the context of the Chechen Wars that came to define his career as a guerrilla. These too are difficult to research without running into plenty of bad or heavily biased scholarship (Mark Galeotti is a great example of this—I’m hardly a global security expert and I’ve found several egregious errors in his work, yet he’s a frequently consulted analyst, author of a prominent blog, and arrogant blowhard), or scholarship that dates itself by trying hard to be relevant to current events. Much of what makes for compelling reading can be found in investigative journalism and eyewitness accounts, in which you must beware and act as your own filter.

For history:

The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad by Robert W. Schaefer

Yes, this book is crazy expensive. It’s also the only legitimate history that lays out the foundations of Khattab’s war in detailed and balanced way while also showing its relevance to today’s world. Many people might think “What’s the Chechen War got to do with me? Or with anything?” Written by a Green Beret Colonel for a “lessons learned” approach to important international problems, this book has everything you need to know, although it doesn’t make for a “thriller” for the average reader.

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings, by Brian Glyn Williams

This is a ‘current’ popular history—one meant to try and grasp the people shocked by the Boston Marathon bombings into considering their greater context. This muddies it somewhat, as it’s written for the average American, but this also makes it more accessible, which is important in our times.

For investigative journalism:

Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, by Sebastian Smith

This book was riveting! You’ll read some criticism in Amazon reviews that it’s a biased account. This criticism actually kept me from reading the book for a number of years, until a friend of mine more or less insisted I read it. Ignore the Amazon criticism. Smith was embedded with Chechen fighters for some time during the war and that necessarily informs his view of events, but we get an excellent tradeoff in the quality and vividness of his firsthand accounts, often at the risk of his own life. He also does an excellent job providing historical context that’s easy to understand and does his best to provide balanced coverage from many sources. This book is a must read even without Khattab’s direct appearance and truly one of my favorites in war journalism of any kind.

Chienne de Guerre, by Anne Nivat

I admire Anne Nivat. While reporting for a French newspaper, she embedded herself with Chechen civilians, using her ability to speak Russian to blend in with the population while it was under attack from the Russian Army. She provided a unique and extremely important perspective on the Russian “re-invasion” in 1999, at a crazy risk to her own life. Women have always been particularly vulnerable in Chechnya’s rugged mountain culture (where “bride-snatching” is still not entirely a custom of the past), and this was especially so during the Russian reconquest, in which packs of soldiers known for rape and murder roamed the streets of Chechen towns. Khattab himself appears only briefly in her book and her depiction of him is not flattering, but the greater picture of who and what he fought for is rendered in stark and beautifully human detail.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links on the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon.   When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

Thank you!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

 

Before you listen…

“The American Frontier” in the 1780s was not a very pleasant place to be.

When Great Britain signed the treaty in 1783 acknowledging American independence, they acknowledged something else of great significance: America’s “claim” to the vast swathe of territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Protected by the British government from a surge of land-hungry colonists since 1763, this land contained many people of various native tribes who had no notion of the claim of any foreign power to the land they’d called home for centuries.

Defending the land—now promoted by the young American government as “open” for any American to purchase, was always going to be a near-insurmountable challenge. Not only did the Americans have technology and organization on their side, they also had vast numbers. Immigrants from Europe, people who had no chance of ever establishing themselves in their home countries with their own property, were streaming over by boat for the chance of a lifetime: a piece of earth to truly call their own. On the other side, the native people were reeling from the decimation caused by European diseases for which they had no natural defense. Untold thousands and entire villages died before Colonists could even arrive in force, just from contact with European traders and representatives. The loss of life had culturally destabilizing influence, as did the importation of new European goods.

On top of all that, the tribes were still not accustomed to the idea of a common enemy against which all should unite. European colonies had gained a foothold in America not just through the inroads of disease, but also by forming alliances, playing off different ancestral enemies against each other and then turning on their erstwhile friends when the field had been cleared. Wide ranging tribal confederacies were difficult to form on an even temporary basis and leadership within and across tribes was always fluid. Warriors followed chiefs out of earned respect rather than any official obligation or fear of rank.

Such was the situation on the Ohio River, the de facto boundary between American and “Indian” land in 1790. Bands of Shawnee, Miami, Wyandot, Lenape, and Wabash tribal people resisted the incursions of settlers in the post-war years, violently and chaotically, with atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict. Thousands of people were killed before George Washington, President under the recently implemented Constitution, wished to put the ugly matter to rest and “pacify” the tribes beyond the Ohio.

Eager to get the war done on the cheap (the American government was dangerously in debt and short of funds) and with a genteel disdain for the ‘savages’ and their Stone Age war-fighting, Washington was content to leave the assignment to a contingent of mixed-quality militia (funded by states rather than the national treasury) and a minority of professionals, under the leadership of some under-utilized acquaintances from the Revolution. Show some force, he thought, and the tribes will be intimidated into submission.

He did not reckon with the consequences of poor training and leadership for his men, or with the emergence of a formidable triumvirate of tribal leaders who would not be intimidated: Blue Jacket, leading the Shawnee, Buckongahelas of the Lenape, and a wily tactician from the Miami people, who would come into his own against the forces of the new Republic, a man with the unassuming Translated name of Little Turtle…

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

Little Turtle and his contemporaries are tough to pin down. His people did not leave us a written account of his early life and struggle, so we rely on sources from “our” cultural side to understand him and the defense of the Old Northwest. That said, modern scholarship has gone to great lengths to provide balanced historical accounts that draw from the limited tribal sources that are available, as well as the old American sources.

If you don’t mind a book that doesn’t look good, but contains first rate information, try

Little Turtle (Me-she-kin-no-quah): the great chief of the Miami Indian nation by Calvin Young

This book is actually a scanned republishing of a long out-of-print history. It’s a little tough on the eyes, but it’s a classic.

For a straight-up history of the Northwest Indian War and its unusual events:

President Washington’s Indian War, by Wiley Sword

Aside from having a great name, Sword achieves an impressive level of detail and balance in his account. His bibliography is broad and deep.

For a good general history of the culture clash and adventure of America’s early encroachment on native lands, there are a couple of interesting histories that capture the “feel” of the era, even if Little Turtle himself does not star as the main character.

William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest, by William Heath

This book is a great biography of Little Turtle’s culturally half-white, half-Indian son-in-law. His remarkable life was a great symbol for the times in which he lived and the complicated feelings anyone with sympathies on both sides of the cultural struggle must have had.

The First Frontier: the Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America, by Scott Weidensaul

This is a super-readable and comprehensive account of the first couple of centuries in European/American and ‘Indian’ relations. I can’t recommend it highly enough for people who want to understand the history before the “Wild West” was even a myth.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links through the title or the picture of the book to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping.   When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

Thank you!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Hail Legionaries! Check out the intro blog from the Centurion and then dive into eleventh century England in episode 2!

Before you listen…

Eleventh century England wasn’t a very fun place to be, even for the powerful folks, to say nothing of the commoners. To the north, the hybrid-culture regions of Northumbria and Strathclyde were the source of constant border warfare and raids with the hostile Kingdom of Scotland and sometimes independent lords. To the West, the culturally distinct Welsh were independent and the source of many disagreements over boundaries that led to attempts at military conquest. The ‘Anglo-Saxons’ themselves, founders of England as we know it, competed with each other from the bases of formerly autonomous regions. On the continent in Northern France, Norman lords sought to expand their interests in the vulnerable British Isles, already acquiring a reputation (like their Viking forebears) for being some of history’s most notorious gate-crashers. Last and perhaps most menacing, the shores and the inlets were always in danger from Viking raids of all sizes and occasionally Viking colonization or conquest attempts. The region now known as Kent had been so successfully colonized by Vikings that it had become known as the “Danelaw.” To make matters more confusing, the Vikings competed with each other as well, and often allowed themselves to be bought off by lords from all other sides, or hired as mercenaries to fight other lords or other Vikings.

Got all that straight?

With the political situation in England changing completely by the decade for the course of 250 years, by the 1060s it hardly seemed like the place where an event of lasting importance for world history would occur. England had been subjugated by Vikings (again) and re-asserted itself (again) over the previous 50 years. As the Saxon King Edward the Confessor descended into his final illness without a clear successor, it looked like more of the same turmoil would continue forever: the erstwhile King of Norway claimed he had an agreement with a former Viking ruler’s son that the Kingdom would be his. William, Duke of Normandy (known unflatteringly at the time as “the Bastard” to highlight his illegitimate birth and dubious claim on his own duchy) was waving around a supposed promise made to him that he would inherit the kingdom. The Anglo-Saxon lords had their own ideas, of course, particularly the family of Godwin, who had spent years maneuvering himself closer and closer to the throne.

This time, however, would be different. The world wasn’t entirely aware of it at the time, but the Vikings were on their last legs as a terrifying power in Europe. The Saxons, disunited and quarrelsome as always, were more vulnerable than usual. The Normans, minor players, had just used their connections with the Church to grant themselves an aura of legitimacy that would bring swarms of opportunistic (and plunder-hungry) foreigners to their ranks.

The cultural melting pot was about to come together and the unwitting aggressiveness of one of its main players: Harold, son of Godwin, would provide the impetus for its final solidification, one that would tie it to the Continent in a new and ominously important way for centuries to come.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

I like to start with surveys, especially when I think of Britain and England in particular. Early Middle Ages England was a war-ravaged cultural melting pot of different values and language groups, and a good starting point for general history is

Anglo Saxon England (Oxford History of England Book 2) by Frank M. Stenton

For the circumstances around the Battle of Hastings, there’s the popular ‘William and Norman-centered’ way to go about it, best represented in recent books by

The Norman Conquest: The battle of Hastings and the fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris

For a really good look at the ‘Harold and Anglo-Saxon-centered’ side, I recommend

Harold, the Last Anglo-Saxon King by Ian W. Walker

Combining these two histories really gives you a sense of how England in 1066 was anyone’s game. In part because of that, and just because I can’t help myself, I have to also recommend

The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings

This was a real eye opener for me about who the Vikings really were, what their life was like, and what an important impact they had on Northern Europe before Harald Hardrada brought what is widely thought of as the closing chapter to their influence.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links through the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon.   When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

Thank you!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

 

Good evening legionaries,

We are pumped to bring you what we hope is the first of many great episodes! The Centurion has included a little background to get you ready, as well as books for further reading and ways to show your support! Please leave a comment and let us know what you think. We look forward to interacting with you!

Before you listen…

Something was rotten on the Rhine River.

The year was 235, and as the famed Roman Army marched to deal with the threat of Germanic barbarians, much appeared as it always had. Rome, capital of a great Empire, was nearing its one thousandth year of proud existence. Threatened many times from without by rival states and wildly different cultures, shaken repeatedly from within by periodic convulsions of civil war, Rome had always endured.

As the unruly and demoralized troops, fresh off a decidedly mixed campaign against the resurgent Persians, marched to the border with Germany to deal with yet another barbaric incursion, murder was in the air. When they received the news that their Emperor had bought off the barbarians with a bribe and there would be no revenge for the raids they had perpetrated in the army’s absence, the violent feelings quickly found a new target—the Emperor himself.

A genteel young man, Emperor Severus Alexander had ascended to power at the age of 15, under the direction of his mother and grandmother. Given the best tutors, he attempted to restrain the disturbing forces that were sending cracks through Rome’s imperial foundation: the loss of discipline among the formerly hard-living Roman troops and the debasement of the silver coinage for temporary funding fixes (and corruption).

It was not to be. Viewed as effeminate and the pawn of a woman, Alexander was despised by the Roman Legions, and his poor leadership against the Persians combined with his unmanly bribe of the barbarians sealed his (and his mother’s) doom. When both were brutally killed at camp on the Rhine and the legionaries hailed one of their own: a huge, menacing, and hard-nosed soldier by the name of Maximinus Thrax, the first peasant to ever assume the throne, they were unwittingly setting off a tumultuous five decades of constant civil war that would nearly destroy everything it took the better part of a millennium to build.

This eruption of assassinations, military fratricide, burning cities, and massive barbarian raids made possible by completely undefended borders was later known as “The Military Anarchy” or the “Crisis of the Third Century.” During this time frame, no fewer than 25 different men had “legitimized” claims to power and fought at least one civil war to gain or maintain it. Trade broke down. Fragmentation ensued. Tens of thousands of people were massacred or dispersed in successive years.

In this chaotic environment where so many good people had been killed, a man could make a name for himself more easily than in the past: when social order breaks down, social mobility picks up. A century earlier, a man like Aurelian might have been no better than a senior non-commissioned officer in a border legion—such was the best you could hope for as a lowly commoner. In those desperate times of the third century, however, he had risen to command whole armies, and become the trusted Master of the Cavalry under Emperor Claudius II.

Even if he had known he was destined to be Emperor himself, however, Aurelian could have been forgiven for pessimism. Assuming he was able to keep the inevitable rebels and usurpers at bay and avoid falling to revolt, he still had to fix the economy, get the soldiers in line, and use them to defeat Germanic Alemanni, Carpi, Goth, and Vandal tribal waves, along with the Sassanid Persians and several powerful leaders of breakaway regions, and to do it while paying them with nearly worthless currency.

At stake was Western Civilization itself, with the libraries that remained unburned, the stored up knowledge and cultural heritage of a thousand years’ time, which had already suffered incalculable damage and seemed sure to be snuffed out—returning Europe to a darker and more primitive time from which there could be no later Renaissance and no birth of modernism.

No big deal.

This episode is the story of Aurelian and the debt Rome and history itself owed him. May it be one small step toward restoring him— to his proper place as one of our most important historical figures.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire volume one, by Edward Gibbon and David P. Womersley

For the true learners and those who want the best! Gibbon is a towering figure in imperial Roman Scholarship. He was not only a total master of the history; he had complete command of the English language and his life’s work is as great a literary achievement as it is a historical one. Our understanding of Rome has been expanded and sharpened somewhat in the two and a half centuries since Gibbon’s career, but for sheer breadth, depth, and penetrating analysis of the slow crumbling of a great civilization, Gibbon is unmatched. Volume One briefly deals with the rise and establishment of the Empire, then covers its decline to the late fourth century, and can be read apart from all the other volumes. While not for the faint of heart, it’s worth every minute of your time!

If, however, you are a wuss who wants a simpler and more condensed account of Roman decline for a modern audience, you could certainly do worse than this next book:

How Rome Fell, by Adrian Goldsworthy

Speaking of Goldsworthy, he’s really good when he’s got a specific issue to tackle in simple form. His short, incisive, and compelling piece on how the Romans evolved as a military fighting force is a great starting point for understanding why the Roman Legion was so feared, important, successful, and ultimately unsuccessful. The foreword by noted military historian John Keegan is pretty great, too:

Roman Warfare, by Adrian Goldsworthy

For biographies of Aurelian, there are two notable books: the superior in depth and analysis (and far more expensive)

Aurelian and the Third Century, by Alaric Watson

For a cheaper, more accessible to the regular reader, but less historically sound (in the closing chapters especially) biography,

The Roman Emperor Aurelian: Restorer of the World

Gets the job done. I don’t appreciate White’s thoughts on the fall of the Empire in general, but his analysis of Aurelian himself is as well-sourced as it can be, given the scarcity of sources on him in general.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Share it on social media and with your friends. Also, use our Amazon links through the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon.   When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

Thank you!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.