From Africa to Scotland

Modern technology has afforded more tools for measuring and dating finds of past human activity.

Radiocarbon dating can measure up to 40,000 years ago. This has resulted in recalibration of estimated ages of archaeological finds so that items already in museums have been more accurately dated, plus new finds can be immediately placed in their more accurate time zone. Computer programs now exist to easily calibrate radiocarbon years to calendar years, and the trend in recent years is to use calibrated years.

Geologists work with Archaeologist. ‘Archaeological geology’ is a term coined by Werner Kasig in 1980. It emphasises the value of earth constituents for human life.

There is a new scientific field of palaeogenetics, the molecular genetic studies of the past – see http://www.sanger.ac.uk/science/collaboration/african-genome-variation-project.

In prehistoric times, the region that was to become known as Assyria (and Subartu) was home to a Neanderthal culture such as has been found at the Shanidar Cave. The earliest Neolithic sites in Assyria were the Jarmo culture c. 7100 BC and Tell Hassuna, the centre of the Hassuna culture, c. 6000 BC.  It is even possible that Neanderthal man somehow crossed to what is now California 130,000 years ago, suggests Thomas Démeré (see http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/were-humans-americas-100000-years-earlier-scientists-thought).

Image of Mesopotamian pot

Pottery artefacts are often the main surviving remnants of past human existence. The everyday storage untensils, some basic, some ornate. Without the potters wheel they would not have been so abundant. The potter’s wheel has been dated back to 3500 BC in Mesopotamia. See https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/usergallery/ZAKCobiRW8cMKg

in 2016, archaologists discovered prehistoric bones in Gough’s Cave, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset. These have been dated to be around 15000 years old. The scientific team, led by Silvia Bello of the Natural History Museum in London, UK, explained that cannibalism and ritualistic defleshing can be distinguished based on frequency, distribution and characteristics of cut marks:

“Cannibalized human remains, however, present a uniform cut mark distribution, which can be associated with disarticulation of persistent and labile articulations, and the scalping and filleting of muscles. For secondary burials where modification occurred after a period of decay, disarticulation marks are less common and the disarticulation of labile joints is rare,” the team reports in their paper.



Come forward again to 3500 BC and the invention of the potters wheel, and another 300 years later for humans to develop the significant use of the wheel for transportation, at first in the form of chariot wheels. Humans took that long to appreciate the possibilities of their amazing invention. Nothing happened overnight in human development, and it maybe depended on what environmental challenges and resources were around to help the brain ‘click’ on to possibilities and diversification of original inventions. The wheel, an invention imported from the civilized Middle East, had arrived in the steppe around 3100 BCE. The invention of the chariot in the steppe – perhaps originally meant as an improved tool for hunting – occurred roughly by 2000 BCE, probably in the area just east of the southern Ural mountains, where the oldest chariots have been unearthed. The word for horse appears just around this date for the first time in Mesopotamia, when an increase in north-south trade through Iran is attested.


As climate change, seismic activity and land mass evolved, so humans adapted and explored their environments. Many perished fighting the elements, and fighting each other.

The importance of recurrent Ice Ages has helped present day researchers identify Epochs. The Pleistocene Epoch is typically defined as the time period that began about 1.8 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. The most recent Ice Age occurred then, as glaciers covered huge parts of the planet Earth.

There have been at least five documented major ice ages during the 4.6 billion years since the Earth was formed — and most likely many more before humans came on the scene about 2.3 million years ago.

The Pleistocene Epoch is the first in which Homo sapiens evolved, and by the end of the epoch humans could be found in nearly every part of the planet. The Pleistocene Epoch was the first epoch in the Quaternary Period and the sixth in the Cenozoic Era. It was followed by the current stage, called the Holocene Epoch.

https://quaternary.stratigraphy.org/definitions/pleistocenesubdivision/

Graph


Here in Scotland, no traces have yet been found of either a Neanderthal presence or of Homo sapiens during the Pleistocene interglacials, the first indications of humans in Scotland occurring only after the ice retreated in the 11th millennium BC. Loch Lomond Stadial A relatively cold period that occurred towards the end of the last (Devensian) glaciation in Scotland. The event took place about 11 000–10 000 BP. It is characterized by the development of small ice caps and cirque glaciers in the Highlands. “Loch Lomond Stadial.”

(Before Present (BP) years is a time scale used mainly in geology and other scientific disciplines to specify when events occurred in the past. Because the “present” time changes, standard practice is to use 1 January 1950 as the commencement date of the age scale, reflecting the fact that radiocarbon dating became practical in the 1950s. The abbreviation “BP”, with the same meaning, has also been interpreted as “Before Physics”; that is, before nuclear weapons testing artificially altered the proportion of the carbon isotopes in the atmosphere, making dating after that time likely to be unreliable).

The period of prehistory prior to occupation by the genus Homo is part of the geology of Scotland. Prehistory in Scotland ends with the arrival of the Romans in southern Scotland in the 1st century AD and the beginning of written records. 

Scotland has been altered dramatically by both human and natural forces. Initially, sea levels were lower than at present due to the large volume of ice that remained after the ice retreated. This meant that the Orkney archipelago and many of the Inner Hebridean islands were attached to the mainland, as was the present-day island of Great Britain to Continental Europe. Much of the present-day North Sea was also dry land until after 4000 BC. Dogger Bank, for example was part of a large peninsula connected to the European continent. This would have made travel to western and northern Scotland relatively easy for early human settlers. The subsequent isostatic rise of land makes estimating post-glacial coastlines a complex task and there are numerous raised beaches around Scotland’s coastline.

In the remote Highlands and Islands, much of the area has a thick covering of peat that preserves stone fragments, although the associated acidic conditions tend to dissolve organic materials. There are also numerous important remains in the Orkney archipelago, where sand and arable land predominate. Local tradition hints at both a fear and veneration of these ancient structures that may have helped to preserve their integrity.

The UNESCO (see http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/514) site is described thus:

The group of Neolithic monuments on Orkney consists of a large chambered tomb (Maes Howe), two ceremonial stone circles (the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar) and a settlement (Skara Brae), together with a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites. The group constitutes a major prehistoric cultural landscape which gives a graphic depiction of life in this remote archipelago in the far north of Scotland some 5,000 years ago.”

The Neolithic archaeology dig currently going on in Orkney is drawing many tourists. See http://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk

And see their daily blog at http://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/dig-diary-thursday-july-27-2017/

The Neolithic Ring of Brodgar is astounding and the Standing Stones of Stenness one mile away take your breath away.

https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ring_of_Brodgar,_Orkney.jpg#mw-jump-to-license

Image of Standing Stones https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/stones-of-stenness-circle-and-henge/

But we have to go back again to Africa, from whence we all came, to the Palaeolithic stone tools, made by humans and found in the Great Rift Valley of Africa and dated from about 3.3 million years ago. They were probably made by Australopithecines. The site, found by the Leakey family of the 1940s, is a UNESCO area (see http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5505/.) 

“Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site is located on the floor of the Great Rift Valley between two extinct volcanoes, Mt. Olorgesailie and Oldonyo Esakut to the south-west of Nairobi, Kenya. Olorgesailie area is in a lake basin that existed during the latter part of the middle Pleistocene period, probably between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. Discovered by Louis and Mary Leakey in the 1940s, Olorgesailie was excavated by Glynn Isaac as his dissertation research during the 1960s.”

And 

“Olorgesailie can be compared to rich fossil World Heritage Listed sites such Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian in China (listed in 1987),  The Sangiran Early Man site in Java (listed in 1996) and Fossil hominid Sites of Sterkfontain, because of its excellent preserved biological and cultural evidence on the evolution of human kind. However, unlike the other fossil sites Olorgesailie has a massive accumulation of human tools found in situ within a locality.”

Image of book:


In the 1980s I bought the book of the BBC series The Making of Mankind, and it has been a treasure of mine. The descendant of the Leakey family, who discovered the Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site in the 1940s, Richard Leakey brought us up to date in the 1980s. This family made a wonderful contribution to our search for answers to questions re our emergence as Homo Sapiens. 

Richard Leakey has also warned us that our success as an organism has been at the expense of many others, and our planet is being destroyed as we deforest, deep mine, pollute and demand more than the earth can now tolerate.

Scotland is a country which has been difficult to plunder; it has few of the targeted resources humans crave. Population settlements have been disrupted by The Clearances between the 16th and 19th centuries to replace people with sheep. My husband’s ancestors suffered in that period (see badbeafamilies.com) The past decade has seen Scotland’s windy landscape exploited with extensive wind farms sometimes replacing vital peat lands and treasured landscapes, and ecologically harmful hydroelectric damns ruined waterways for fish and natural courses. We are fighting off fracking, though licenses have already been issued for the Grangemouth area. But campaigns continue, year on year, to protect its vital Wilderness (see http://www.snh.gov.uk/protecting-scotlands-nature/looking-after-landscapes/landscape-policy-and-guidance/wild-land/mapping/)

As we know, the hunter gatherer phase of human existence did not leave evidence of human harm to the environment. But since we humans became farmers, we began to settle in locations, and developed a sense of territory to defend or expand to, we have inflicted great harm by the present day.

We can now look back on the existence of our ancestors and watch the history unfold, as various sciences present us with new, often daily findings.

In archaeology, the Mesolithic (Greek: μέσος, mesos “middle”; λίθος, lithos “stone”) is the period between Paleolithic and Neolithic. The term “Epipaleolithic” is often used for areas outside northern Europe, but was also the preferred synonym used by French archaeologists until the 1960s. Most of us think of this as the Middle Stone Age.

In Scotland, the Mesolithic lasted until the adoption of farming. This was followed by the New Stone Age (Neolithic) when metalworking commenced. 

The earliest representations of culture in Anatolia can be found in several archaeological sites located in the central and eastern part of the region. Stone Age artifacts such as animal bones and food fossils were found at Burdur (north of Antalya). Although the origins of some of the earliest peoples are shrouded in mystery, the remnants of Bronze Age civilizations such as the Hattian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Hittite peoples provide us with many examples of the daily lives of its citizens and their trade. advancing past their peak of success.

https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Museum_of_Anatolian_Civilizations014.jpg#mw-jump-to-license


Neolithic Italy refer to the period that spanned from circa 6000, when neolithical influences from the east reached the Italian peninsula and the surrounding island bringing the so-called Neolithic revolution, to circa 3500-3000 BCE, when metallurgy began to spread.

Map of Neolithic culture spreading from Africa:


See http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/106/20150166

There are so many points of interest to read about. We live in a wonderful age of self education on the back of work of specialists sharing their knowledge with us via the Internet, books and journals. I do find myself addictively searching for knowledge whilst I have the luxury to do so from our little cottage in the Scottish Borders.

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Out of Africa

Title: A San (Bushman) who gave us an exhibition of traditional dress and hunting/foraging behavior. Namibia. (IDBeatty_002219)

Perhaps the biggest long-term strength of the hunter-gatherers’ lifestyle was that it provided an inbuilt control on the overall level of human population. Hunter-gatherers relied on travelling by foot so it was necessary for them to have their children well spaced apart – one every four or five years at most – so they didn’t have to carry too many children at once. A stable population of about 5 million hunter-gathering humans lived on Earth for tens of thousands of years, without the population increasing significantly overall. It was a natural limit, a sustainable level, founded on a nomadic way of life.

The recent African origin of modern humans is the mainstream model that describes the origin and early dispersal of anatomically modern humans. The theory is called the (Recent) Out-of-Africa model in the popular press, and academically the recent single-origin hypothesis (RSOH), Replacement Hypothesis, and Recent African Origin (RAO) model. The hypothesis that humans have a single origin (monogenesis) was published in Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871).

People lived in hunter gatherer state of nature from the time of their first appearance as Homo habilis, or even as far back as the Australopithecus 

Australopithecus afarensis (“Lucy”), replica (Nachbildung). Location: Senckenberg-Museum, Frankfurt am Main (Germany)


– Lucy’s people – dating back at least 3 million years. They hunted when they were hungry, slept when they were tired, and when the land was void of fruit and meat they moved on elsewhere, giving the Earth a chance to restore, recover and renew.

Anatomically modern humans first appear in the fossil record in Africa about 195,000 years ago (see Omo remains), and studies of molecular biology give evidence that the approximate time of divergence from the common ancestor of all modern human populations was 200,000 years ago. The broad study of African genetic diversity found the ǂKhomani San people to express the greatest genetic diversity among the 113 distinct populations sampled, making them one of 14 “ancestral population clusters”. The research also located the origin of modern human migration in southwestern Africa, near the coastal border of Namibia and Angola.

The forces of natural selection have continued to operate on human populations, with evidence that certain regions of the genome display directional selection in the past 15,000 years.

We rely on scientists to continue their fascinating research to attempt to answer questions about our relentless human population growth and impact on this fragile planet.

From Hunter-Gatherers to Farmers building Empires

One ancient empire was Assyria. (See exquisite artefacts at http://museopics.com/Ancient-World-Wonders-History-Antiquities/MuseoPics-Ancient-Mespotamian-Civilisations/Assyrians-Ancient-Civilisation-Artefacts-Art/1-Ancient-Assyrian-Index/Ancient%20Assyrian%20History-Index.html

The Old Testament names people, places and events which archaeologists have located and shed light as to the culture and development of the Assyrian farming population.

Ancient Assyrian Art


Assyria was a major Mesopotamian East Semitic-speaking kingdom and empire of the ancient Near East and the Levant. It existed as a state from perhaps as early as the 25th century BC in the form of the Assur city-state, until its lapse between 612 BC and 599 BC, spanning the Early to Middle Bronze Age through to the late Iron Age. It is well documented since writing was invented, c. 3500-3000 BCE, the scribes seem almost obsessed with recording every facet of their cities lives and, because of this, archaeologists and scholars in the present day have a fairly clear understanding of how the people lived and worked.

Map at biblehistory.com

After the demise of the empire, between the mid-2nd century BC and late 3rd century AD a patchwork of small independent Assyrian kingdoms arose in the form of Ashur, Adiabene, Osroene, Beth Nuhadra, Beth Garmai and Hatra during the Parthian and early Sasanian Empires, a period which also saw Assyria become a major centre of Syriac Christianity and the birthplace of the Church of the East.

One of the biggest historical earthquakes known to have happened was the Aleppo earthquake November 29, 533 Syria killing around 130,000 people. Populations were small then, so it must have been terrifying. The area of Ancient Assyria suffered many earthquakes, the historic seismic activity has since been analysed. See Research gate

It took until the mid-seventh century for the Arab Islamic Conquest to finally dissolve Assyria (Assuristan) as a geopolitical entity, after which the remnants of the Assyrian people (by now almost all Christians) gradually became an ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious minority in the Assyrian homeland, surviving there to this day as an indigenous people of the region.

The Hittite Empire

Image from http://realhistoryww.com/world_history/ancient/Anatolia_Turkey_2.htm




The earliest migrations archaeologists have reconstructed from historical sources are those of the 2nd millennium BC. The Proto-Indo-Iranians began their expansion from c. 2000 BC, the Rigveda (The Rigveda (Sanskrit: ऋग्वेद ṛgveda, from ṛc “praise, shine”and veda “knowledge”) is an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns. It is one of the four canonical sacred texts (śruti) of Hinduism known as the Vedas. The text is a collection of 1,028 hymns and 10,600 verses, organized into ten books (Mandalas). A good deal of the language is still obscure and many hymns as a consequence seem unintelligible), documenting the presence of early Indo-Aryans (Indo-Aryan peoples are a diverse Indo-European-speaking ethnolinguistic group of speakers of Indo-Aryan languages. There are over one billion native speakers of Indo-Aryan languages, most of them native to South Asia, where they form the majority) in the Punjab from the late 2nd millennium BC, and Iranian tribes being attested in Assyrian sources as in the Iranian plateau from the 9th century BC. In the Late Bronze Age, the Aegean and Anatolia were overrun by moving populations, summarized as the “Sea Peoples”, leading to the collapse of the Hittite Empire and ushering in the Iron Age.
Indo-Aryans map – see Wikipedia


The Hittites were the forerunners of the Iron Age, developing the manufacture of iron artifacts from as early as the 18th century BC; at this time, gifts from the “man of Burushanda” of an iron throne and an iron sceptre to the Kaneshite king Anitta were recorded in the Anitta text inscription.The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, Turkey houses the richest collection of Hittite and Anatolian artifacts.

The Hittites (/ˈhɪtaɪts/) were an Ancient Anatolian people who established an empire centered on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia around 1600 BC. This empire reached its height during the mid-14th century BC under Suppiluliuma I, when it encompassed an area that included most of Anatolia as well as parts of the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia. Between the 15th and 13th centuries BC the Hittite Empire came into conflict with the Egyptian Empire, Middle Assyrian Empire and the empire of the Mitanni for control of the Near East. The Assyrians eventually emerged as the dominant power and annexed much of the Hittite empire, while the remainder was sacked by Phrygian newcomers to the region. After c. 1180 BC, during the Bronze Age collapse, the Hittites splintered into several independent “Neo-Hittite” city-states, some of which survived until the 8th century BC before succumbing to the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

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Rome Kingdom to Empire: impact on Brittania to Judea

Rome had a Kingdom, then a Republic, then an Empire. What follows is the evolving significant people and events which resulted in the Empire.

The last Kingdom monarch was Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, located in Ancient Rome. As a result of a political revolution in around 509 BC, the king was expelled from the Kingdom. 

This led to the establishment of the Roman Republic:

The Republic Consuls

 • 509–508 BC Lucius Junius Brutus (/ˈluːʃiəs, -ʃəs, ˈdʒuːnjəs ˈbruːtəs/) was the founder of the Roman Republic and traditionally one of the first consuls in 509 BC. He was claimed as an ancestor of the Roman gens Junia, including Decimus Junius Brutus and Marcus Junius Brutus, the most famous of Julius Caesar’s assassins.

Joint Consul was Lucius Tarquinius Ar. f. Ar. n. Collatinus was one of the first consuls of the Roman Republic in 509 BC, together with Lucius Junius Brutus. The two men were leaders of the revolution which overthrew the Roman monarchy; ironically Collatinus was forced to resign his office and go into exile as a result of the hatred he had helped engender in the people against the former ruling house.

Gaius Octavius (about 100 – 59 BC) was an ancestor to the Roman Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He is the father of the Emperor Augustus, step-grandfather of the Emperor Tiberius, great-grandfather of the Emperor Claudius, great-great grandfather of the Emperor Caligula, and great-great-great grandfather of the Emperor Nero. 

Hailing from Velitrae, he descended from an old, wealthy equestrian branch of the gens Octavia. Despite being from a wealthy family, his family was plebeian (lower class) rather than patrician (aristocracy). It was possible for a plebeian to rise and be accepted by the aristocracy and become a novus homo (“new man”). Gaius Octavius went ‘up the ladder’ in this way although he would not be of a senatorial family.

His grandfather, Gaius Octavius, fought as a military tribune in Sicily during the Second Punic War. His father Gaius Octavius was a municipal magistrate who lived to an advanced age. He is a distant relative (possibly as third cousins, through their ancestor Gnaeus Octavius Rufus) to Gnaeus Octavius, the consul of 87 BC who led the opposition to Lucius Cornelius Cinna.

The End of the Republic

Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir, then known as Octavianus (Anglicized as Octavian). 

He, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate (the name historians have given to the official political alliance formed on 27 November 43 BC with the enactment of the Lex Titia, the adoption of which is viewed as marking the end of the Roman Republic).

The assassination of Julius Caesar on 15 March 44BC (“the ides of March” by the Roman system of dating) is the most famous political murder in history. Caesar had recently been made “dictator for life”, and he was killed in the name of “liberty” by a group of men he counted as friends and colleagues.

In the aftermath, the assassins issued coins with a design specially chosen to celebrate the deed and press home the message: it featured the memorable date (“EID MAR”), a pair of daggers and the image of the small hat, “the cap of liberty”, regularly presented to oman slaves when they were granted their freedom. This was liberation on a grander scale, freeing the Roman people from tyranny. 

Octavian, quick to recognize the benefit of being associated with a god had coins struck with his image on one side described as “Caesar, Son of a God” and Julius Caesar on the other described as “the God Julius.” (See coins at http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/imp/octavian/i.html)

The Triumvirate did defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at the Battle of Philippi, but this caused divisions amongst the Roman Republic and the three fell out and ruled as military dictators.

The Triumvirate was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BC. 

The Battle of Actium was the decisive confrontation of the Final War of the Roman Republic, a naval engagement between Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra on 2 September 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the promontory of Actium, in the Roman province of Epirus Vetus in Greece. Octavian’s fleet was commanded by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, while Antony’s fleet was supported by the power of Queen Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (/əˈɡrɪpə/; 64/62 BC – 12 BC) was a Roman consul, statesman, general and architect. He was a close friend, son-in-law, and lieutenant to Octavian and was responsible for the construction of some of the most notable buildings in the history of Rome and for important military victories, most notably at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC against the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. As a result of these victories Octavian became the first Roman Emperor, adopting the name of Augustus. 

Agrippa assisted Augustus in making Rome a city of marble and renovating aqueducts to give all Romans, from every social class, access to the highest quality public services. He was responsible for the creation of many baths, porticoes and gardens, as well as the original Pantheon. 

Photo of Agrippa inscription on the Pantheon, Rome

Agrippa was also father-in-law to the second Emperor Tiberius, maternal grandfather to Caligula, and maternal great-grandfather to Emperor Nero.

Many of Rome’s legal and legislative structures (later codified into the Justinian Code, and again into the Napoleonic Code) can still be observed throughout Europe and much of the world.

Octavian’s victory enabled him to consolidate his power over Rome and its dominions. He adopted the title of Princeps (“first citizen”) and some years later was awarded the title of Augustus (“revered”) by the Roman Senate. This became the name by which he was known in later times. As Augustus, he retained the trappings of a restored Republican leader, but historians generally view this consolidation of power and the adoption of these honorifics as the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.

Augustus is mentioned in the Bible:

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7 ESV)”

Augustus died in AD 14 at the age of 75. He probably died from natural causes, although there were unconfirmed rumors that his wife Livia poisoned him. He was succeeded as Emperor by his adopted son (also stepson and former son-in-law) Tiberius.

During the reign of Augustus, the King of Judea was Herod (/ˈhɛrəd/; Hebrew: הוֹרְדוֹס‎, Hordos, Greek: Ἡρῴδης, Hērōdēs; 74/73 BCE – 4 BCE), also known as Herod the Great and Herod I. He was a Roman client king of Judea, referred to as the Herodian kingdom. The history of his legacy has polarized opinion, as he is known for his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including his expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Herod’s Temple), the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada and Herodium. Vital details of his life are recorded in the works of the 1st century CE Roman–Jewish historian Josephus. Herod also appears in the Christian Gospel of Matthew as the ruler of Judea who orders the Massacre of the Innocents at the time of the birth of Jesus. Despite his successes, including singlehandedly forging a new aristocracy from practically nothing, he still garnered criticism from various historians. His reign polarizes opinion amongst scholars and historians, some viewing his legacy as evidence of success, or a reminder of his tyrannical rule.

Upon Herod’s death the Romans divided his kingdom among three of his sons and his sister—Archelaus became ethnarch of the tetrarchy of Judea, Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, Philip became tetrarch of territories north and east of the Jordan, and Salome I was given a toparchy including the cities of Jabneh, Ashdod, and Phasaelis.

Caesar Tiberius

Tiberius was one of Rome’s greatest generals; his conquest of Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and temporarily, parts of Germania, laid the foundations for the northern frontier. But he came to be remembered as a dark, reclusive, and sombre ruler who never really desired to be emperor; Pliny the Elder called him tristissimus hominum, “the gloomiest of men.” But this might be explained by the death of Tiberius’ son Drusus Julius Caesar in 23 AD, and Tiberius became more reclusive and aloof. In 26 AD Tiberius removed himself from Rome and left administration largely in the hands of his unscrupulous Praetorian Prefects Lucius Aelius Sejanus and Quintus Naevius Sutorius Macro.

Caligula, Tiberius’ grand-nephew and adopted grandson, succeeded Tiberius upon his death. 

The route for him to eventually become Caesar was as follows:

When Germanicus died at Antioch in AD 19, his wife Agrippina the Elder Returned with her six children to Rome, where she became entangled in a bitter feud with Tiberius. The conflict eventually led to the destruction of her family, with Caligula as the sole male survivor. Untouched by the deadly intrigues, Caligula accepted the invitation to join the Emperor in AD 31 on the island of Capri, where Tiberius had withdrawn five years earlier. With the death of Tiberius in AD 37, Caligula succeeded his grand uncle and adoptive grandfather as emperor.

Titus

Titus, gained renown as a military commander, serving under his father in Judea during the First Jewish–Roman War. The campaign came to a brief halt with the death of emperor Nero in 68, launching Vespasian’s bid for the imperial power during the Year of the Four Emperors. When Vespasian was declared Emperor on 1 July 69, Titus was left in charge of ending the Jewish rebellion. In 70, he besieged and captured Jerusalem, and destroyed the city and the Second Temple. For this achievement Titus was awarded a triumph: the Arch of Titus commemorates his victory to this day.

Titus (Latin: Titus Flāvius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus;[a] 30 December 39 AD – 13 September 81 AD) was Roman emperor from 79 to 81. A member of the Flavian dynasty, Titus succeeded his father Vespasian upon his death, thus becoming the first Roman Emperor to come to the throne after his own biological father.  He responded generously with disaster relief after the eruption of Vesuvius AD 79 which caused the death of at least 16,000 people with suffocating ash and instantly decimated Pompei and Herculeneam. There followed a serious fire and plague in Rome in 80 AD, and again Titus helped fund the relief. The Colliseum was unveiled in that year and in 81 AD Titus died.

The Colliseum today


The influence of Emperor Hadrian:

Hadrian (/ˈheɪdriən/; Latin: Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus; was Roman emperor from 117 to 138. He is known for building Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the northern limit of Britannia. He also rebuilt the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. Philhellene (admirer of Greek and everything Greek) in most of his tastes, he is considered by some to have been a humanist.

Yet far from Rome, Bethlehem was destroyed by the Emperor Hadrian during the second-century Bar Kokhba revolt (Hebrew: ‫מרד בר כוכבא‬‎; Mered Bar Kokhba) was a rebellion of the Jews of the Roman province of Judea, led by Simon bar Kokhba, against the Roman Empire. Fought circa 132–136 CE, it was the last of three major Jewish–Roman wars, so it is also known as The Third Jewish–Roman War or The Third Jewish Revolt. Some historians also refer to it as the Second Revolt of Judea, not counting the Kitos War (115–117 CE), which had only marginally been fought in Judea). 

Hadrian’s influence reached out to Brittania when, in 122AD Hadrian ordered a wall to be built from the east coast where the Solway reaches the Irish Sea, across to the west to the North Tyne and the North Sea. It took 14 years to build and had forts positioned along its length, to keep out the tribes of North Ancient Britons away from lands conquered south of it. It is called Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Wall, Picts’ Wall, or Vallum Hadriani in Latin. A number of Assyrians were conscripted into the Roman Army, and inscriptions in Aramaic made by soldiers have been discovered in Northern England dating from the second century.

Photo of Hadrian’s wall today (a short distance from where I live).

The New Testament reported Bethlehem to be the place of birth of Jesus. Pilgrims identified the location as a cave after the destruction of Bethlehem.

It took another two centuries before the rebuilding of Bethlehem, promoted by Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. It was she who commissioned the building of its great Church of the Nativity in 327 CE, it was traditionally considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus. The Church of the Nativity site’s original basilica was completed in 339. It was destroyed by fire during the Samaritan Revolts in the 6th century. 

The Samaritan revolts were a series of insurrections during the 5th and 6th centuries in Palaestina Prima province,(Palæstina Prima or Palaestina I was a Byzantine province from 390, until the 7th century. It was lost to the Sassanid Empire in 614, but was re-annexed in 628, before its final loss during the Muslim conquest of Syria in 636. launched by the Samaritans against the Byzantine Empire).

The Samaritan revolts were marked by great violence on both sides, and their brutal suppression at the hands of the Byzantines and their Ghassanid allies severely reduced the Samaritan population. The events irreversibly shifted the demographics of the region, making the Christians the only dominant group in the Palaestina Prima province for many decades onward. 

A new basilica was built 565 by Justinian, the Byzantine Emperor, restoring the architectural tone of the original. The site of the Church of the Nativity has had numerous additions since this second construction, including its prominent bell towers. (See recent and amazing restorations reported at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/Greeks-Geographic-exhibit-ancient-treasure-Agamemnon-Alexander-archaeology-museum/church-of-nativity-bethlehem-restoration-mosaics-angel/)

Due to its cultural and geographical history, the site holds a prominent religious significance to those of the Christian faith.

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 The Adoption of the Gregorian Calendar

I grew up using the Gregorian Calendar without much thought as to its origin (or realising it was called the Gregorian Calendar!)  My digging back in time has taught me that this pervasive and powerful system dates back to Pope Gregory XIII. 

The terms anno Domini (AD) and before Christ (BC) are used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The term anno Domini is Medieval Latin and means “in the year of the Lord”, but is often translated as “in the year of our Lord”.

The calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of the conception or birth of Jesus of Nazareth, with AD counting years from the start of this epoch, and BC denoting years before the start of the era. There is no year zero in this scheme, so the year AD 1 immediately follows the year 1 BC. This dating system was devised in 525 by Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor, but was not widely used until after 800.The Gregorian calendar is internationally the most widely used civil calendar. It is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582. The calendar was a refinement to the Julian calendar involving a 0.002% correction in the length of the year. The average length of the year in the Julian calendar was too long – it treated each year as 365 days, 6 hours in length, whereas calculations showed that the actual mean length of a year is slightly less (365 days, 5 hours and 49 minutes) As a result, the date of the actual vernal equinox had slowly (over the course of 13 centuries) slipped to 10 March, while the computus (calculation) of the date of Easter still followed the traditional date of 21 March.

Pope Gregory XIII was Ugo Boncompagni, born the son of Cristoforo Boncompagni and of his wife Angela Marescalchi in Bologna, where he studied law and graduated in 1530. He became a close friend of Philip II of Spain whilst he served as his legate having been sent by the Pope to investigate the Cardinal of Toledo. When Boncompagni became Pope Gregory XIII, this link with the Spanish King influenced his foreign policy.

Depiction of Pope Gregory XIII

He was a liberal patron of the recently formed Society of Jesus throughout Europe, for which he founded many new colleges. The Roman College of the Jesuits grew substantially under his patronage, and became the most important centre of learning in Europe for a time, known as the University of the Nations. It is now named the Pontifical Gregorian University. Pope Gregory XIII also founded numerous seminaries for training priests, beginning with the German College at Rome, and put them in charge of the Jesuits.

Pope Gregory XIII is best known for his commissioning of the calendar after being initially authored by the Calabrian doctor/astronomer Aloysius Lilius and with the aid of Jesuit priest/astronomer Christopher Clavius who made the final modifications. 

When Gregory decreed, by the papal bull Inter gravissimas of 24 February 1582, that the day after Thursday, 4 October 1582 would be not Friday, 5 October, but Friday, 15 October 1582, the switchover was bitterly opposed by much of the populace, who feared it was an attempt by landlords to cheat them out of a week and a half’s rent.

The new calendar duly replaced the Julian calendar, in use since 45 BC, and has since come into universal use. Because of Gregory’s involvement, the reformed Julian calendar came to be known as the Gregorian calendar.

The Catholic countries of Spain, Portugal, Poland, and Italy complied. France, some states of the Dutch Republic and various Catholic states in Germany and Switzerland (both countries were religiously split) followed suit within a year or two, and Hungary followed in 1587.

The Gregorian calendar has been the unofficial global standard, adopted in the pragmatic interests of international communication, transportation, and commercial integration, and recognized by international institutions such as the United Nations.

Traditionally, English followed Latin usage by placing the “AD” abbreviation before the year number. However, BC is placed after the year number (for example: AD 2017, but 68 BC), which also preserves syntactic order. The abbreviation is also widely used after the number of a century or millennium, as in “fourth century AD” or “second millennium AD” (although conservative usage formerly rejected such expressions). Because BC is the English abbreviation for Before Christ, it is sometimes incorrectly concluded that AD means After Death, i.e., after the death of Jesus. However, this would mean that the approximate 33 years commonly associated with the life of Jesus would not be included in either of the BC and the AD time scales.

Terminology that is viewed by some as being more neutral and inclusive of non-Christian people is to call this the Current or Common Era (abbreviated as CE), with the preceding years referred to as Before the Common or Current Era (BCE). Astronomical year numbering and ISO 8601 avoid words or abbreviations related to Christianity, but use the same numbers for AD years.

The Gregorian calendar was not accepted in eastern Christendom for several hundred years, and then only as the civil calendar. The Gregorian Calendar was instituted in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917, Romania accepted it in 1919 under king Ferdinand of Romania (1 November 1919 became 14 November 1919), Turkey in 1923 under Ataturk, and the last Orthodox country to accept the calendar was Greece also in 1923.

China, who used the oldest known calendar, resisted the Gregorian calendar until 1912 but it was not widely used throughout the country until the Communist victory in 1949. This widespread change occurred on October 1, 1949, when Mao Zedong, who led the People’s Republic of China, ordered that the year should be in accord with the Gregorian calendar.

At the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam containing Mecca – Islam’s holiest site – shifted to the Western Gregorian calendar, bringing the oil producing kingdom in line with many of its energy customers and so it can pay workers less and save money. This was due to newly imposed austerity measures. Civil servants lost 11 days of payment after their salary became based on the solar Gregorian calendar rather than the lunar Hijri calendar.

This seems to have brought us  full circle, as when the new calendar was decreed by Gregory XIII, the populace believed the date had been changed due to pressure of their landlords who were going to gain financially at the time of switchover.

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7th Century Religious Earthquakes

Rome first influenced the conversion of Pagans living in the British Isles, to Christianity. According to Prosper of Aquitaine, Palladius was from a noble family in Gaul. In 429, he was serving as a deacon in Rome. The Pope commissioned him to send Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, to investigate rumors of Pelagianism in Britain. In 431, Pope Celestine I consecrated Palladius a bishop and sent him to minister to the “Scots believing in Christ”. His mission mainly seems to have been to Irish Christians in the east midlands, Leinster, and perhaps east Munster. It is uncertain if he converted any Irish. What little is known of his mission appears to have been successful, though it was later downplayed by partisans of Patrick.

Depiction of Celestine I


The Anglo-Saxons were a people who inhabited Great Britain from the 5th century. They comprise people from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, their descendants, and indigenous British groups who adopted some aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language. The elite declared themselves as kings who developed burhs, and identified their roles and peoples in Biblical terms. Above all, as Helena Hamerow has observed, “local and extended kin groups remained…the essential unit of production throughout the Anglo-Saxon period.” The effects persist in the 21st century as, according to a study published in March 2015, the genetic make up of British populations today shows divisions of the tribal political units of the early Anglo-Saxon period.

During the early decades of the seventh century, many Anglo-Saxon nobles were educated at Irish monasteries in northern Britain, specifically at Iona. This was the period when the Romans had left and the Anglo-Saxons were dominating Britain.

Bede said that the Irish willingly welcomed the students, gave them food, and provided them with books and instruction, without seeking any payment. When these Irish-educated nobles returned to England, they invited Irish missionaries into their pagan kingdoms to evangelize. For example, the Anglo-Saxon King Oswald invited the Irish bishop Aidan from Iona into his kingdom, and Aidan founded the monastery at Lindisfarne on the coast of Northumberland around 635. The English historian Bede shows that Irish missionary activity in northern England was more successful at converting the pagan English than that started by Rome in 597 from Canterbury in the south of England.

Saint Columba, the founder of the monastery at Iona, has a Latin hymn, “Exalted Creator” (Altus Prosator), attributed to him, although not all critics accept the attribution. Three poems in praise of Columba rank among the oldest complete poems in the Irish language. One of them, the “Eulogy for Columba” (Amra Choluim Chille), has been dated on linguistic grounds to around 600, which coincides well with Columba’s death date of 597. When Columba died in 597, Christianity had been preached and received in every district in Caledonia, and in every island along its west coast. In the next century Iona had so prospered that its abbot, St. Adamnan, wrote in excellent Latin the “Life of St. Columba”. From Iona the Irish Aidan and his Irish companions travelled to evangelize Northumbria, Mercia, and Essex.

Depiction of St Columba


Whilst across in Constantinople…….
Sergius I, born a Syrian, was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 610 to 638. He is most famous for promoting Monothelite Christianity, especially through the Ecthesis (The Ecthesis (Greek: Ἔκθεσις) is a letter published in 638 CE by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius which defined monotheletism as the official imperial form of Christianity.)

Monothelitism or monotheletism (from Greek μονοθελητισμός “doctrine of one will”) is a particular teaching about how the divine and human relate in the person of Jesus, known as a Christological doctrine, that formally emerged in Armenia and Syria in 629. Specifically, monothelitism is the view that Jesus Christ has two natures but only one will. This is contrary to the Christology that Jesus Christ has two wills (human and divine) corresponding to his two natures (dyothelitism). Monothelitism is a development of the miaphysite or monophysite position in the Christological debates. Formulated in 638, it enjoyed considerable popularity, even garnering patriarchal support, before being rejected and denounced as heretical in 681 at the Third Council of Constantinople.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is one of the most enduring institutions in the world and has had a prominent part in world history. The ecumenical patriarchs in ancient times helped in the spread of Christianity and the resolution of various doctrinal disputes. In the Middle Ages they played a major role in the affairs of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as in the politics of the Orthodox world, and in spreading Christianity among the Slavs. Currently, in addition to the expansion of the Christian faith and the Eastern Orthodox doctrine, the patriarchs are involved in ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, charitable work, and the defense of Orthodox Christian traditions.

In 610 the Council of Constantinople synod ruled that monks could be full members of the clergy, a decision that would massively increase the hordes of Greek monks about to flee to Rome as the Slavs conquered much of the Balkan coast. At this time Salona in Dalmatia, Prima Justiniana in Illyricum, peninsular Greece , Peloponnesus, and Crete were under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Rome, and Constantinople was one of “the last places to which one could turn for refuge in the early seventh century”.

In 613, the Jewish revolt against the Byzantine Heraclius culminated with the conquest of Jerusalem in 614 by Persian and Jewish forces and establishment of Jewish autonomy. 

In the year 622, Muhammed and some followers had moved from Mecca to Medina. He was now around 52 years of age. Muhammed proclaimed that “God is One”, that complete “surrender” (lit. islām) to him is the right course of action (dīn), and that he was a prophet and messenger of God, similar to the other prophets in Islam.

After the Persians had departed Jerusalem in 629, they left the Jews unable to defend themselves and they were eventually massacred by the Byzantines ending 15 years of Jewish autonomy. The massacre devastated the Jewish communities of the Galilee and Jerusalem. Only those Jews who could flee to the mountains or Egypt are said to have been spared.

In Medina, Muhammad united the tribes under the Constitution of Medina. In December 629, after eight years of intermittent conflict with Meccan tribes, Muhammad gathered an army of 10,000 Muslim converts and marched on the city of Mecca. The attack went largely uncontested and Muhammad seized the city with little bloodshed. In 632, a few months after returning from the Farewell Pilgrimage, he fell ill and died (aged 62). Before his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam.

The Rashidun Caliphate (Arabic: اَلْخِلَافَةُ ٱلرَّاشِدَةُ‎‎ al-Khilāfaṫur-Rāshidah) (632–661) was the first of the four major caliphates established after the death of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. It was ruled by the first four successive caliphs (successors) of Muhammad after his death in 632 CE (11 AH in the Islamic calendar). These caliphs are collectively known in Sunni Islam as the Rashidun or “Rightly Guided” caliphs (Arabic: اَلْخُلَفَاءُ ٱلرَّاشِدُونَ‎‎ al-Khulafā’ur-Rāshidūn). This term is not used in Shia Islam as Shia Muslims do not consider the rule of the first three caliphs as legitimate.

Meanwhile, Emperor Heraclius (610–641) had set out to recover much of the part of his Empire lost to the Persians and had attempted to bridge the controversy with Monophysitism, which was particularly strong in Syria and Egypt, by proposing a moderate theological position that had as good support in the tradition as any other. The result was first monoenergism, i.e. that Christ, though existing in two natures, had one energy (divine and human), the second was monothelitism, i.e. that Christ had one will (that is, that there was no opposition in Christ between his human and divine volition). This doctrine was accepted in most of the Byzantine world, but was opposed at Jerusalem and at Rome and started a controversy that persisted even after the loss of the reconquered provinces and the death of Heraclius. 

In 632, Muslim leadership passed to Caliph Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr had been a close companion of Muhammad from the Banu Taym clan, and he was elected the first Rashidun leader, during the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula. He ruled from 632 to his death in 634. Once Bakr’s sovereignty over Arabia had been secured, he initiated a war of conquest in the east by invading Iraq, then a province of the Sassanid Persian Empire; while on the western front, his armies invaded the Byzantine Empire.

In 634, Abu Bakr died and was succeeded by Umar, who continued his own war of conquest. 

In May 636, Emperor Heraclius launched a major expedition to regain lost Byzantine territory, but his army was defeated decisively at the Battle of Yarmouk in August 636. (See https://dailyscribbling.com/a-brief-guide-to-byzantium/byzantine-battles-the-battle-of-yarmouk/)

Battle of Yarmouk depiction

Thereafter, Abu Ubaidah, the Muslim commander-in-chief of the Rashidun army in Syria, held a council of war in early October 636 to discuss future plans. Opinions of objectives varied between the coastal city of Caesarea and Jerusalem. Abu Ubaidah could see the importance of both these cities, which had resisted all Muslim attempts at capture. Unable to decide on the matter, he wrote to Caliph Umar for instructions. In his reply, the caliph ordered them to capture the latter. Accordingly, Abu Ubaidah marched towards Jerusalem from Jabiya, with Khalid ibn Walid and his mobile guard leading the advance. The Muslims arrived at Jerusalem around early November, and the Byzantine garrison withdrew into the fortified city. 

The Patriarch was Sophronius. He was born at Damascus, in Syria, where Saint Paul was baptized. Catholics record him Sophronius as “the great defender in the East of the full humanity of Jesus Christ against those heretics, the Monothelites, who denied that Our Lord had a human will, and therefore that He had truly become man for love of us.” (See http://catholicism.org/saint-sophronius-639.html)

Sophronius said he would surrender on the condition that he submit only to the Rashidun caliph. This was arranged.

In early April 637, Caliph Umar arrived in Palestine and went first to Jabiya, where he was received by Abu Ubaidah, Khalid, and Yazid, who had traveled with an escort to receive him. Amr was left as commander of the besieging Muslim army.

Upon Umar’s arrival in Jerusalem, a pact known as The Umariyya Covenant was composed. It surrendered the city and gave guarantees of civil and religious liberty to Christians in exchange for jizya. It was signed by caliph Umar on behalf of the Muslims, and witnessed by Khalid, Amr, Abdur Rahman bin Awf, and Muawiyah. In late April 637, Jerusalem was officially surrendered to the caliph. 

It has been recorded in the annals of Muslim chronicles, that at the time of the Zuhr prayers, Sophronius invited Umar to pray in the rebuilt Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Umar declined, fearing that accepting the invitation might endanger the church’s status as a Christian temple, and that Muslims might break the treaty and turn the temple into a mosque. After staying for ten days in Jerusalem, the caliph returned to Medina.

Following the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, Jews were once again allowed to live and practice their religion in Jerusalem, 8 years after their massacre by the Byzantines and nearly 500 years after their expulsion from Judea by the Roman Empire.

Image of Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Old City, Jerusalem (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlascar/ • CC BY 2.0)

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Pre and Post the Year Muhammed was Born

In 570c, a boy called Muhammad, was born in the Arabian city of Mecca. 

In Eastern Europe there were migrations of nomadic peoples and major changes were taking place as the Byzantine Empire fought for retention of its borders.

Prior to Muhammed’s birth, one of the nomadic tribes in Eastern Europe was expanding its territories and growing in number, and becoming a problem for the Byzantine Empire. These were the Avars. Map of lands conquered by Avars

In 557 the Avars sent an embassy to Constantinople, marking their first contact with the Byzantine Empire—presumably from the northern Caucasus. In exchange for gold, they agreed to subjugate the “unruly gentes” on behalf of the Byzantines. They conquered and incorporated various nomadic tribes—Kutrigurs and Sabirs—and defeated the Antes. By 562 the Avars controlled the lower Danube basin and the steppes north of the Black Sea. By the time they arrived in the Balkans, the Avars formed a heterogeneous group of about 20,000 horsemen. After the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527–565) bought them off, they pushed northwestwards into Germania. However, Frankish opposition halted the Avars’ expansion in that direction.

Then there were the Lombards.

These were a Germanic people who ruled large parts of the Italian Peninsula from 568 to 774.

The Lombard historian Paul the Deacon wrote in the Historia Langobardorum that the Lombards descended from a small tribe called the Winnili, who dwelt in southern Scandinavia (Scadanan) before migrating to seek new lands. In the 1st century AD, they formed part of the Suebi, in northwestern Germany. By the end of the 5th century, they had moved into the area roughly coinciding with modern Austria north of the Danube river, where they subdued the Heruls and later fought frequent wars with the Gepids. The Lombard king Audoin defeated the Gepid leader Thurisind in 551 or 552; his successor Alboin eventually destroyed the Gepids at the Battle of Asfeld in 567.

Following this victory, Alboin decided to lead his people to Italy, which had become severely depopulated and devastated after the long Gothic War (535–554) between the Byzantine Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom there. The Lombards were joined by numerous Saxons, Heruls, Gepids, Bulgars, Thuringians, and Ostrogoths, and their invasion of Italy was almost unopposed. By late 569 they had conquered all north of Italy and the principal cities north of the Po River except Pavia, which fell in 572. At the same time, they occupied areas in central Italy and southern Italy. They established a Lombard Kingdom in north and central Italy, later named Regnum Italicum (“Kingdom of Italy”), which reached its zenith under the 8th-century ruler Liutprand.

Meanwhile, Justin II became Emperor of The Byzantine Empire in 565, and he promoted his close friend, a Thrace born man,Tiberius to the position of Comes excubitorum, which he held from approximately 565 through to 574.

In 569, he appointed Tiberius to the post of Magister utriusque militiae with instructions to deal with the Avars and their demands. After a series of negotiations, Tiberius agreed to allow the Avars to settle on Roman territory in the Balkans in exchange for male hostages taken from various Avar chiefs. Justin, however, rejected this agreement, insisting on taking hostages from the family of the Avar Khan himself. This condition was rejected by the Avars, so Tiberius mobilized for war. In 570 he defeated an Avar army in Thrace and returned to Constantinople. While attempting to follow up this victory, however, in late 570 or early 571 Tiberius was defeated in a subsequent battle where he narrowly escaped death as the army was fleeing the battlefield. Agreeing to a truce, Tiberius provided an escort to the Avar envoys to discuss the terms of a treaty with Justin. On their return, the Avar envoys were attacked and robbed by local tribesmen, prompting them to appeal to Tiberius for help. He tracked down the group responsible and returned the stolen goods.

Due to illness, Justin made Tiberius Caesar.

Tiberius negotiated a truce with the Avars, paying them 80,000 nomismata per year, for which the Avars agreed to defend the Danube frontier, thereby allowing Tiberius to transfer troops across to the east for a planned renewal of the conflict against the Persians.

In 575 Tiberius began moving the armies of Thrace and Illyricum to the eastern provinces. Buying time to make the necessary preparations, he agreed to a three-year truce with the Persians, paying 30,000 nomismata, though the truce excluded action in the region around Armenia. Not content with making preparations, Tiberius also used this period to send reinforcements to Italy under the command of Baduarius with orders to stem the Lombard invasion. He saved Rome from the Lombards and allied the Empire with Childebert II, the King of the Franks, in order to defeat them. Unfortunately, Baduarius was defeated and killed in 576, allowing even more imperial territory in Italy to slip away. Tiberius was unable to respond as the Persian Sassanid Emperor Khosrau I struck at the Empire’s Armenian provinces in 576, sacking Melitene and Sebastea. Shifting his attention eastward, Tiberius sent his general Justinian with the eastern armies to push the Persians back across the Euphrates. The Byzantines followed, and pushed deep into Persian territory, culminating in a raid on Atropatene. In 577, however, Justinian was defeated in Persian Armenia, forcing a Byzantine withdrawal. In response to this defeat, Tiberius replaced Justinian with the future emperor Maurice. During the truce which Tiberius concluded with Khosrau, he busily enhanced the army of the east, not only with transfers from his western armies but also through barbarian recruits, which he formed into a new Foederati unit, amounting to some 15,000 troops by the end of his reign.

As mentioned above, the Persian Khosrow (Khosrau) I was the twenty-second Sasanian Emperor of Persia, and one of its most celebrated emperors.

Image of Khosrow

He laid the foundations of many cities and opulent palaces, and oversaw the repair of trade roads as well as the building of numerous bridges and dams. His reign is furthermore marked by the numerous wars fought against the Sassanid’s neighboring archrivals, the Roman-Byzantine Empire, as part of the already centuries-long lasting Roman-Persian Wars. The most important wars under his reign were the Lazic War which was fought over Colchis (western Georgia-Abkhazia) and the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 572–591. During Khosrow’s ambitious reign, art and science flourished in Persia and the Sasanian Empire reached its peak of glory and prosperity. His rule was preceded by his father’s and succeeded by Hormizd IV. Khosrow Anushiruwan is one of the most popular emperors in Iranian culture and literature and, outside of Iran, his name became, like that of Caesar in the history of Rome, a designation of the Sasanian kings. He died in 579.
In late 577, Maurice, bodyguard to Tiberius, despite a complete lack of military experience, was named as magister militum per Orientem, effectively commander-in-chief of the Byzantine army in the East, in the ongoing war against Sassanid Persia, succeeding the general Justinian. At about the same time, he was raised to the rank of patricius. He scored a decisive victory against the Persians in 581. In 582 he became the next Caesar.

And during these years when battles raged far from him, little Muhammed, orphaned and raised under the care of his paternal uncle Abu Talib, would seclude himself in a mountain cave named Hira for several nights of prayer.

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From Roman Empire to the New World

Thank you Wikipedia, illuminating my path of education as I search for understanding. Thank you also all the various sites on history and books of information on battles for control of areas of the known world which had previously been conquered by the Romans. 

I find this period so pivotal to the theme I am developing. I am asking myself, what kind of people conquered the New World? All this history culminates in Columbus setting off across the Atlantic with the unforeseen, devastating impact on the indigenous, still in Bronze Age mode, people of the Americas.

 It is amazing to me, to think in parts of the known world, humans were becoming sophisticated in battle; developing high levels of theology, science and maths; achieving amazing explorations and trading abilities, expressing high art in buildings and artefacts and displaying a huge range of cultural differences. 

The culmination of centuries of experience brought us to the point when Columbus left Italy and finally set foot on land as yet unknown to Europeans: The New World.

The impact is still reverberating today and that is why I am trying to get my mind round it, amateur as I am.

So here I go, putting together a timeline of some events which seem to show the seismic shift taking place over the centuries, up to the mid 1400s. I am focussing on the Byzantine Empire in this blog, in order to show how the last remaining Roman defence of the Empire was impinged by other empires until, as empires do, it was extinguished. Yet, throughout, whatever happened, the Christian religion spread and pervaded. Religion seems key to the true conquest of the minds of people, and what makes them embrace or reject ‘others’.

At 2010 statistics (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_population_growth) suggest Christianity was estimated to be by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31%) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth. 

Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23% of the global population.

Having written about the Roman Empire elsewhere, I am taking up at the point when the Empire was divided for administrative purposes:

Image of coin with the head of Diocletian stamped on it:


In 285 CE the Roman Empire had grown so vast that it was no longer feasible to govern all the provinces from the central seat of Rome. The Emperor Diocletian divided the empire into halves with the Eastern Empire governed out of Byzantium (later Constantinople) and the Western Empire governed from Rome.

Map of divided Roman Empire:

In 376, the Visigoths (a western Germanic nomadic tribe, named later as ‘visigoths’ by Roman Cassiodorus) invaded the Roman Empire beginning in 376 and defeated the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. 

Relations between the Romans and the Visigoths were variable, alternately warring with one another and making treaties when convenient. The Visigoths invaded Italy under Alaric I and sacked Rome in 410. After the Visigoths sacked Rome, they began settling down, first in southern Gaul and eventually in The Iberian Peninsula, where they founded the Visigothic Kingdom and maintained a presence from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD, until the Moors invaded.

After the Western Roman Empire fell in the 5th century AD, the Byzantine Empire remained for an additional thousand years (Late Antiquity) until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. 

During the Byzantine period, the people continued to think of themselves as Roman citizens belonging to Romania.

Below I have picked out significant battles and policies of notable emperors to plot the 977 years of the Byzantine expansion and then decline.

Some Notable emperors and events:

 • c. 330–337 Constantine I

Constantine I (r. 324–337) reorganised the empire, made Constantinople the new capital, and legalised Christianity. 

 • c. 375-395 Theodosius I 

Christianity became the Empire’s official state religion and other religious practices were proscribed.

410 The Visigoths invaded Italy under Alaric I and sacked Rome (Western Roman Empire).

 • 457–474 Leo I

A native of Dacia Aureliana near historic Thrace, he was known as Leo the Thracian. Ruling the Eastern Empire for nearly 20 years, Leo proved to be a capable ruler. He oversaw many ambitious political and military plans, aimed mostly for the aid of the faltering Western Roman Empire and recovering its former territories. He is notable for being the first Eastern Emperor to legislate in Greek rather than Latin.

After the fall of Rome, the papacy was influenced by the temporal rulers of the surrounding Italian Peninsula; these periods are known as the Ostrogothic Papacy, Byzantine Papacy, and Frankish Papacy. Over time, the papacy consolidated its territorial claims to a portion of the peninsula known as the Papal States. Thereafter, the role of neighboring sovereigns was replaced by powerful Roman families during the saeculum obscurum, the Crescentii era, and the Tusculan Papacy.

 • 527–565 Justinian I

Under Justinian I (r. 527–565), the Empire reached its greatest extent after reconquering much of the historically Roman western Mediterranean coast, including North Africa, Italy, and Rome itself, which it held for two more centuries. The population of the Byzantineb Empire in 565 AD est. 26,000,000c 

After his invasion of Italy, the Gothic War (535–554), Emperor Justinian I forced Pope Silverius to abdicate and installed Pope Vigilius, a former apocrisiarius to Constantinople in his place; Justinian next appointed Pope Pelagius I, holding only a “sham election” to replace Vigilius; afterwards, Justinian was content to be limited to the approval of the pope, as with Pope John III after his election. Justinian’s successors would continue the practice for over a century.

The Byzantine Papacy was a period of Byzantine domination of the Roman papacy from 537 to 752, when popes required the approval of the Byzantine Emperor for episcopal consecration, and many popes were chosen from the apocrisiarii (liaisons from the pope to the emperor) or the inhabitants of Byzantine Greece, Byzantine Syria, or Byzantine Sicily. Justinian I conquered the Italian peninsula in the Gothic War (535–554) and appointed the next three popes, a practice that would be continued by his successors and later be delegated to the Exarchate of Ravenna.

It was during this century that the term “Visigoth” was invented by Cassiodorus, a Roman in the service of Theodoric the Great.

(Theodoric, was king of the Ostrogoths (475–526), ruler of Italy (493–526), regent of the Visigoths (511–526), and a patricius of the Roman Empire. His Gothic name Þiudareiks translates into “people-king” or “ruler of the people”.

Theodoric was born in Pannonia, now northern Croatia in 454, after his people had defeated the Huns at the Battle of Nedao. His father was King Theodemir, a Germanic Amali nobleman, and his mother was Ereleuv.

Cassiodorus used his term of “Visigothic” to match that of “Ostrogothic”, in his mind signifying “western Goths” and “eastern Goths” respectively. The western–eastern division was a simplification (and a literary device) of 6th century historians; political realities were more complex. Further, Cassiodorus used the term “Goths” to refer only to the Ostrogoths, whom he served, and reserved the geographical term “Visigoths” for the Gallo-Spanish Goths. This usage, however, was adopted by the Visigoths themselves in their communications with the Byzantine Empire and was still in use in the 7th century.

 • 610–641 Heraclius

The Empire’s military and administration were restructured and adopted Greek for official use instead of Latin. Looking back at the reign of Heraclius, scholars have credited him with many accomplishments. He enlarged the Empire, and his reorganization of the government and military were great successes. His attempts at religious harmony failed, but he succeeded in returning the True Cross, one of the holiest Christian relics, to Jerusalem.

The Greek Popes (678–752)

Pope Agatho, a Greek Sicilian, started “a nearly unbroken succession of Eastern pontiffs spanning the next three quarters of a century”. Greek was the language of choice during this period as countless Easterners rose through the ranks of the clergy. According to Ekonomou, between 701 and 750, “Greeks outnumbered Latins by nearly three and a half to one”.

Although antagonism about the expense of Byzantine domination had long persisted within Italy, the political rupture was set in motion in earnest in 726 by the iconoclasm ( the social belief in the importance of the destruction of usually religious icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons) of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (Isauria was a rugged isolated district in the interior of South Asia Minor).

Pope Zachary, in 741, was the last pope to announce his election to a Byzantine ruler or seek their approval.

 • 976–1025 Basil II

The early years of his long reign were dominated by civil war against powerful generals from the Anatolian aristocracy (as, for example Eustathios Maleinos (Greek: Εὐστάθιος Μαλεΐνος) was a leading Byzantine general and one of the wealthiest and most influential members of the Anatolian military aristocracy during the late 10th century. He held senior administrative and military posts in the East, and was involved in the aristocratic rebellions against Emperor Basil II (r. 976–1025), fighting against Bardas Skleros but supporting the revolt of his nephew Bardas Phokas. After the failure of the latter, he was not punished, but his immense wealth caused his eventual downfall, as Basil II confined him to a mansion in Constantinople and confiscated his wealth after his death.)

Following their submission, Basil oversaw the stabilization and expansion of the eastern frontier of the Byzantine Empire, and above all, the final and complete subjugation of Bulgaria, the Empire’s foremost European foe, after a prolonged struggle. For this he was nicknamed the Bulgar Slayer (Greek: Βουλγαροκτόνος, Boulgaroktonos), by which he is popularly known. At his death, the Empire stretched from southern Italy to the Caucasus and from the Danube to the borders of Palestine, its greatest territorial extent since the Muslim conquests four centuries earlier. His reign is therefore often seen as the medieval apogee of the Empire.

800 – the papacy recognised Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor. This can be seen as symbolic of the papacy turning away from the declining Byzantium (Constantantinople) towards the new power of Carolingian Francia.

Charlemagne reached the height of his power in 800 when he was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day at Rome’s Old St. Peter’s Basilica.

During the reign of Basil II, the Crescentii clan (in modern Italian Crescenzi) essentially ruled Rome and controlled the Papacy from the middle of the 10th century until the nearly simultaneous deaths of their puppet pope Sergius IV and the patricius of the clan in 1012.

 • 1081–1118 Alexius I

Alexios I Komnenos was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118. Although he was not the founder of the Komnenian dynasty, it was during his reign that the Komnenos family came to full power. Inheriting a collapsing empire and faced with constant warfare during his reign against both the Seljuq Turks in Asia Minor and the Normans in the western Balkans, Alexios was able to curb the Byzantine decline and begin the military, financial, and territorial recovery known as the Komnenian restoration. The basis for this recovery were various reforms initiated by Alexios. His appeals to Western Europe for help against the Turks were also the catalyst that likely contributed to the convoking of the Crusades.(The Objectives of the crusades was at first to release the Holy Land, in particular Jerusalem, from the Saracens, but in time was extended to seizing The Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, the Slavs and Pagans from eastern Europe, and the islands of the Mediterranean. There were a total of nine crusades!)

Map at 1135 first and second crusades:


Michael VIII reigned as Byzantine Emperor 1259–1282. Michael VIII was the founder of the Palaiologan dynasty that would rule the Byzantine Empire until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. He recovered Constantinople from the Latin Empire in 1261 and transformed the Empire of Nicaea into a restored Byzantine Empire.

Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, after re-establishing Byzantine Imperial rule, established an alliance with the Mongols, who themselves were highly favourable to Christianity, many of them being Nestorian Christians.

He signed a treaty in 1263 with the Mongol Khan of the Kipchak (the Golden Horde), and he married two of his daughters (conceived through a mistress, a Diplovatatzina) to Mongol kings: Euphrosyne Palaiologina, who married Nogai Khan of the Golden Horde, and Maria Palaiologina, who married Abaqa Khan of Ilkhanid Persia.

 • 1449–1453 Constantine XI

Constantine Palaiologos reigned 8 February 1405 – 29 May 1453) and was the last reigning Byzantine Emperor,reigning as a member of the Palaiologos dynasty from 1449 to his death in battle at the fall of Constantinople. Following his death, he became a legendary figure in Greek folklore as the “Marble Emperor” who would awaken and recover the Empire and Constantinople from the Ottomans. His death marked the end of the Roman Empire, which had continued in the East for 977 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

So, in 1453 the capital, Constantinople, fell to the Ottomans who were commanded by the then 21-year-old Mehmed the Conqueror, the seventh sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The conquest of Constantinople followed a 53-day siege that had begun on 6 April 1453.

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