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Friday, July 30, 2021

Imperialism and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The West European civilization which conquered the world during the Age of Imperialism (between the sixteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century) was forged by the horsemen of the apocalypse: Goths, Huns, Vikings, the Crusades, Mongols, and Black Death.

From the devastating nomadic invasions and the shocking failure of the crusades, the Europeans developed the appetite for invading, massacring, conquering, and plundering. The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30 percent to 60 percent of the European population in the fourteenth century. The decadent political elite of Europe was finished, the political order collapsed, and power went into the hands of a new class of ambitious, aggressive, and adventurous people who wanted to use the tactics of the nomadic Goths, Huns, Vikings, and Mongols to conquer the world. They wanted revenge for the failure of the crusades. 

The philosophy of the Classical Age (Ancient Greece) has played a minor role during the Age of Imperialism. There was no philosophical motivation behind Imperialism, which was a nomadic, militaristic, and vengeful enterprise. To create a mountain, you don’t need a stable geology—you need a massive earthquake. To forge a world-conquering civilization, you don’t need philosophy—you need the horsemen of the apocalypse. Chaos and catastrophes play a seminal role in creating the manpower that can drive the dynamics of world-conquering civilizations.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Romans, the Visigoths, the Huns

From the second century AD, the Goths were regarded as Europe’s most ferocious warriors. In the fourth century AD, a nomadic tribe appeared that was ferocious on a new level: the Huns. The Huns arrived on the Volga in 370 AD, and they started raiding the territory dominated by the Goths and other Germanic tribes that were living outside the borders of the Roman Empire. In 376 AD, they defeated the Goths. Ermanaric, King of the Goths, was devastated by the defeat and committed suicide. The Romans were shocked by the speed and brutality with which the Huns had slaughtered the Goths, who were Rome’s allies.

By 430 AD, the Huns had conquered a large part of Europe. In 434 AD, they rallied around a charismatic leader, Attila the Hun. Attila and his brother Belda had ascended the throne jointly. They shared power and jointly led the expeditions. They were not just raiding the European cities but capturing a number of them. In 444 AD, Attila killed his brother and became the sole ruler of the Huns. By 445 AD, he had reached the height of his power. The Latin chroniclers have described Attila as Flagellum Dei (whip of God). The chroniclers would use the same term for two other powerful steppe nomad conquerors: Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.

In 450 AD, Attila received a ring from Empress Justa Grata Honoria, elder half-sister of Roman Emperor (of the Western Roman Empire), Valentinian III. She resented her brother and felt that she would be a better Empress of Rome. Valentinian III tried to subdue his sister’s imperial ambitions by marrying her off to an old senator called Bassus Herculanus. Faced with an unwanted marriage, she sent Attila her plea for help and her ring. Attila took her ring as a marriage proposal. He dispatched a message to Emperor Valentinian that he would marry Honoria and that he would take Gaul and Spain as his bride’s dowry.

Valentinian did not have the power to hand over Gaul and Spain (which were Roman territories) to Attila. He was furious at his sister for getting the royal family involved with Attila. He wanted to execute her. But due to the influence of his mother Galla Placidia, he exiled Honoria to a monastery in Constantinople. He wrote to Attila that his sister’s marriage proposal was not legitimate.

When Attila learned that Valentinian had refused his proposal and exiled Honoria, he declared war on Rome. In 451 AD, he marched towards Rome with an army of 50,000 to 100,000 soldiers, including a large number of mounted horsemen. The Hun army swept Western Europe like a swarm of locusts (this is how the Latin chronicles describe the Huns) destroying the cities that they passed. Strasbourg, Worms, Mainz, Cologne, and others were sacked by the Huns. They did a thorough job of destroying eastern and central France—Paris was the only city that they spared.

The Roman General Flavius Aetius, who is often called “the last of the Romans,” raised a large Roman army, which consisted of a number of Gauls, Visigoths, and other Gothic tribes. Flavius’s army met Attila’s Huns on 20 June, 451 AD, in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains.

Attila divided his forces into three parts—the strongest component, the Hun cavalry, was in the center, and the weaker allied groups were stationed at the flanks. Flavius kept his weakest forces in the center and stationed his strongest forces at the flanks—the Visigoths were stationed on the right, and the Romans and the Franks on the left. The Hun cavalry at the center of Attila’s formation attacked first. They charged deep into the center of the Roman formation and scattered it. It appeared as if the Roman army had been ripped into two. But the Huns had done exactly what Flavius had expected (and wanted) them to do. The Visigoths plowed into the right flank of the Hun army, while the Romans and Franks attacked from the left. The estimates of the dead vary between 165,000 to 300,000. Neither side conceded the battle. But Attila was forced to withdraw with his army.

A year later, in 452 AD, he attacked Italy with another large Hun army. It was during this invasion that Pope Leo I met Attila and convinced him to withdraw, for reasons that are unclear.

It is believed that the Huns came from the Russian steppes, but they might have come from the region of Central Asia that would give rise to Genghis Khan in the thirteenth century. Some historians have theorized that the Huns could have been one of the earlier Turkic tribes. The  Hun language has not survived but there are historical records which indicate that they spoke an old form of Turkish. The name “Attila” could be of Turkic origin. In modern Turkey (and in Hungary), Attila is a revered figure. Attila is a popular name for men in Turkey and Hungary.

Ammianus Marcellinus, the fourth century Roman soldier and historian, has offered a savage image of the Huns in his writing. He says that instead of cooking their meat, the Huns used to place slices of meat under their saddles. When the meat got warmed by friction, they ate it. He talks about the Huns decorating their horses with the severed heads of their enemies and using the skulls of their enemies as drinking goblets. To describe the physical features of the Huns, Marcellinus has used terms like “wild”, “savage”, “compact”, “sturdy limbs”, and “thick necks.”

Decline of the West: Rise of the Nomads

History tells us that in the contests between nomadic people and sedentary civilizations, the nomadic people generally prevail. The rise of the electronic industry, software industry, and the Internet has transformed the character of the Western nations—they are now a very sedentary civilization. 

There has never been a civilization as sedentary as today’s Western nations. In the last two years, they have taken their sedentariness to a new level—in the name of saving themselves from a pandemic, they have locked down a vast section of their economy and culture. They prefer to work from the “safety” of their home or office (indoors). They think that “staying indoors means staying safe”—but this notion is not true. The nations in which people stay indoors (and within the borders of their nation) get conquered by aggressive and adventurous nomads.  

The sedentary people are incapable of defending their nation. They are incapable of taking offensive action against their nation’s enemies. They are incapable of innovating and taking advantage of new geopolitical and technological opportunities. They often get mired in highly destructive civil wars. In a few years most of these sedentary Western nations will be captured by the people who are of the nomadic mindset.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Nomadic Parthians Versus The Roman Empire

In the Battle of Magnesia (190 BC), the Romans destroyed the army of the Seleucid Empire, which was founded in 312 BC by Seleucus I Nicator, the General of Alexander the Great, and brought Seleucid hegemony in Asia Minor to an end. But by defeating the Seleucid Empire, the Romans created space for the rise of a nomadic tribe that would one day stop their advance in the East: the Parthians, who were an offshoot of the Scythians.

Between 247 and 190 BC, the Parthians were administering the far-flung areas of the Seleucid Empire. They saw themselves as the vassals of the Seleucid Emperor. When the Seleucid Empire fell into disarray, after their defeat by the Romans, the Parthians decided that the time to upgrade their status from vassals to independent kings had finally arrived. The Parthians started fighting for the control of the Seleucid territory from Afghanistan to the Middle East. For the next 400 years, they would fight wars and rule their vast territory on horseback.

In 140 BC, Parthian King Mithradates I decisively defeated and captured the Seleucid King Demetrius II. After that Mithradates defeated the Greek kings of Bactria. This gave the Parthians control of the eastern half of the Seleucid Empire, including the city of Babylon, then the most prosperous city in Europe and Middle East. This was a stunning achievement for people who were steppe nomads and barbarians.

As the Parthian Empire continued to expand, it reached the border of the Kingdom of Armenia which was on Rome’s radar. In 69 BC, Roman general Lucius Licinius Lucullus defeated the army led by King Tigranes the Great of the Kingdom of Armenia in the Battle of Tigranocerta. With this victory, Rome became a military power in the Middle East. Now Roman power extended up to the Euphrates.

In his essay, "The Life of Lucullus,” Plutarch says that on October 6, when the Roman army stood facing the Armenian army at the Batman-Su river, a tributary of Tigris, the Roman soldiers implored General Lucullus that he should delay the fighting. They believed that October 6 was unlucky for the Romans since this was the day of the disastrous Battle of Arausio in which the Roman army was decisively defeated by the Germanic tribes of Cimbri and Teuton.

Lucullus would not be swayed. He was adamant that the battle would go ahead on October 6. According to Plutarch, Lucullus told his soldiers: "Verily, I will make this day, too, a lucky one for the Romans.” He realized that the heavily armored Parthian cavalry (the cataphracts) were the major threat that his men faced. He led a part of his troops downriver, towards an area where the river was easy to ford.

The motion of the Roman army was interpreted by King Tigranes as a sign that Lucullus was not keen on fighting the battle and that he was trying to evacuate his Roman army by fording the river.

To divert the attention of the cataphracts, Lucullus ordered his Gallic and Thracian cavalry to launch an attack. Meanwhile, the troops that he had led downriver crossed over to the river’s other side and, after circling a hill, they attacked the Armenian army from the behind. Plutarch writes that Lucullus himself led the charge on foot. He reached the top of the hill and said to his soldiers: “The day is ours, the day is ours, my fellow soldiers!”

The Armenian cataphracts, being heavily armored, could not be swiftly maneuvered. When the Romans advanced from two sides, the cataphracts started crashing into the formations of their own army. The Armenian line was broken at several points. Tigranes was forced to flee to save his life. In his book The Art of War, Niccolò Machiavelli has criticized Tigranes for relying heavily on armored cavalry and ignoring his infantry.

The Roman victory over the Kingdom of Armenia made a conflict between Rome and the Parthian Empire inevitable. In 53 BC, Marcus Licinius Crassus, Roman General and Statesman, decided to attack the Parthian Empire primarily because he desired to match the military victories of his two major rivals, Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar. Ovid, the Roman poet who lived in the time of Augustus, has written that the battle between the legions of Crassus and the Parthian forces happened on 9 June near the town of Carrhae (present-day Harran, Turkey).

The Parthian king Orodes II sent his general called Surena with a cavalry force to fight the legions of Crassus. According to Plutarch, Surena had 10,000 soldiers while Crassus had over 50,000 soldiers. But Surena’s heavily outnumbered forces managed to inflict severe casualties on the Romans. In one of the engagements, a detachment of 2000 Roman soldiers led by Publius, the son of Crassus was decimated by the Parthians. The Parthians decapitated Publius and paraded his head on top of a spear in front of the Roman lines. 

Crassus was devastated by the sight of his son’s head on a Parthian spear. Demoralization and panic had set into the Roman legions. They were not in a position to stand against the highly mobile Parthian horsemen. Surena invited Crassus to a peace summit. He offered a truce and the chance for the Romans to withdraw to Syria in exchange for Roman territory east of Euphrates.

Since they had killed his son, Crassus was not willing to negotiate with the Parthians. But his soldiers were furious with him for leading them into a disastrous battle. They threatened to mutiny if he did not go to the peace summit. At the summit, a Parthian soldier pulled the reins of Crassus’s horse. In the fighting that followed, Crassus and the Roman Generals who had accompanied him were killed. After that the Parthians killed many Roman legionaries and took the rest prisoner. Since Crassus was known as the “richest man in Rome,” the Parthians poured molten gold in the throat of his dead body to mock his lust for gold.

This was a humiliating defeat for Rome. The Romans wanted vengeance. But when Augustus became the Emperor in 27 BC, he transformed the Roman policy towards the Parthians. He preferred to negotiate rather than to invade. Through diplomatic initiatives, he was able to recover the Roman captives that the Parthians had from the Battle of Carrhae.

The People Who Created The British Empire

“Damn your writing. Mind your fighting,” Lord Gerald Lake’s furious reprimand to a British soldier in India who was engaged in some writing work.

In December 1796, the command of the military operations in Ulster was transferred to Lake. One of his first actions was to undertake a drive to confiscate the arms owned by the Irish. He used to say that he was “untroubled by legal restraints or by the violent actions of his troops.” He advocated an aggressive approach for crushing the Irish.

In April 1798, when he was made the commander-in-chief of British troops in all of Ireland, he authorized the use of public flogging and torture of the suspected rebels. He ordered his troops to take no prisoners during their counterinsurgency operations.

Instead of calming the situation in Ireland, his use of terror tactics further alienated the Irish people. The Irish Rebellion broke out in May 1798 and the violence went on till 1803. The estimates of the civilian casualties range from 20,000 to as many as 50,000 of which 2,000 were military and 1,000 were loyalist civilians.

In July 1801, Lake became the Commander-in-Chief of the army controlled by the East India Company in India. He played a pivotal role in the Anglo-Maratha war of 1803. For the energy, ability and valor that he displayed in the battlefields of India, the British Government granted him the title of Baron in 1804. In 1807, he was granted the title of Viscount.

The British Empire was the creation of militarists like Lake whose life was devoted to winning wars, suppressing rebellions, conquering territory for Britain. An Empire is not created by philosophers, artists, and saints—it is created by adventurers, warriors, and barbarians.

Monday, July 26, 2021

History’s Oldest Battle: Nomads Versus Civilization

The battles between the nomadic people and the sedentary civilizations are history’s oldest, longest, and most ferociously fought battles. Such battles have been raging for the last 6000 to 8000 years. Between 4800 and 4200 BC, the nomadic people of the steppes domesticated the horse, which gave them the capacity to cover long distances swiftly and conduct surprise raids on sedentary civilizations. Between 2100 and 1700 BC, the nomads developed the composite bow, made of wood, bone, and sinew, which allowed their warriors to release an arrow at a great speed, from the distance of up to 100 yards, while remaining mounted on a fast running horse.

The sedentary civilizations learned about the domestication of horses and the composite bow from the nomads. In the tomb of Tutankhamun, who died in 1324 BC, several composite bows have been found.

In the fifth century BC, Herodotus wrote about the nomadic Scythians who used to come down from the steppes of Southern Russia, and invade Southeastern Europe and the Middle East. The Scythian diet was similar to the diet of the Mongols during the time of Genghis Khan: meat, milk, yogurt, and fermented mare’s milk. Herodotus wrote that the Scythians were hardy people who rode without stirrups and saddles, using only saddle-cloths, but historical evidence shows that between the fifth and ninth centuries BC, the Scythians developed a wooden saddle which allowed their warriors to ride on their horses while shooting arrows or fighting with their swords.

The saddle that the Mongols used during the time of Genghis Khan was an improvement of the Scythian saddle—it allowed the Mongols to ride for days without stopping for rest or food. The Mongol warriors would eat and sleep on the saddle of their moving horses when they were on their way to attack an enemy city.

The Scythian nomads were the earliest warriors in Europe to use mounted warfare. They established their dominance in the eighth century BC, when they vanquished the Cimmerians in the Pontic steppes. They fought several wars with the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonians, and other settled civilizations. Some groups of Scythians became hellenized and Romanized. The Hephthalites, Huns, Goths, Turks, Avars, Khazars, and other nomadic groups were the inheritors of the Scythian tradition.

The Mongols and the Turks are the most successful nomadic civilizations of the last one thousand years. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Mongols conquered the largest contiguous land empire in history but on a psychological and cultural level they remained rooted in their original homeland of Mongolia. They lost their empire in two hundred years but they retained Mongolia. The Turks lost their original homeland in the north of the Caspian and Aral seas, and in the Orkhon Valley, but between the twelfth and twentieth centuries, they conquered several new territories for their people. Modern Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan are predominantly Turkish.

The European imperialist expeditions, launched between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries, were partially nomadic ventures. The Spanish, the British, the Portuguese, and the Dutch were rooted in their European nations, but during the age of imperialism, they acted like extremely mobile nomadic conquerors. They sailed across the seven seas in search of lands that they could conquer and plunder. In a few places like North America and Australia, the Europeans decided to settle down and found new nations. But in most places, their imperialism was organized on nomadic lines—they took whatever they could and returned to their European homeland.

The successful empires contain the elements of both—sedentary culture and nomadic culture. The empires remain rooted in their original homeland, but they earn bulk of their revenues from the nomadic ventures of their warriors and traders.

A Perfect Society is a Tyranny

A nation where people have come to believe that they have achieved perfection will be dogmatic, philosophical, and totalitarian. It cannot survive—it will either be taken over by outside forces or break apart in a civil war. 

In his book The Social Contract, Rousseau said, “A population of gods could have a democratic government. A government as perfect as that is not for men." 

History tells us that the barbaric, ruthless, and warlike people achieve far greater economic, cultural, technological, and political success than the people who believe that they are entitled to succeed because they are perfect. 

The barbarians are the great movers of history.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

In the Vindication of Machiavelli

The letter by Niccolò Machiavelli to Zanobius Buondelmontius is probably fake. It was probably written by Sir Henry Neveille in the sixteenth century. But this letter is a good vindication of Machiavelli and his great works on political theory and history. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:  

“I come now to the last branch of my charge: that I teach princes villainy, and how to enslave. If any man will read over my book ... with impartiality and ordinary charity, he will easily perceive that it is not my intention to recommend that government, or those men there described, to the world; much less to teach men how to trample upon good men, and all that is sacred and venerable upon the earth, laws, religion, honesty, and what not. If I have been a little too punctual in describing these monsters in all their lineaments and colors, I hope mankind will know them, the better to avoid them, my treatise being both a satire against them, and a true character of them.”

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Persian Empire and the Peloponnesian War

In 409 BC, Darius II, King of Persia (the Achaemenid Empire), decided to join the Sparta led Peloponnesian League in their war against the Athens led Delian League. He was convinced that Athenian power was broken after the failure of their Sicilian Expedition between 415–413 BC, and that now the victory of the Spartan side was certain. He ordered his satraps in Asia Minor, Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus, to assist Sparta in defeating Athens.

Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus organized funds for rebuilding the Spartan fleet which had been routed and destroyed in the Battle of Cyzicus (410 BC) by the Athenian fleet led by Alcibiades, Thrasybulus, and Theramenes. They agreed to pay the salaries of the Spartan sailors who were operating the Spartan fleet in Aegean or Hellespontine waters. With their funds, the salaries of the Peloponnesian crew went up and that inspired several sailors and soldiers on the Athenian side to defect to the Peloponnesian side.

In 408 BC, Cyrus the Younger, second son of Darius II, arrived in Asia Minor to ensure that the war against Athens was being vigorously pursued. He could not be more than 16 at that time, since he was born after Darius II ascended to the throne in 423 BC, but he had the plenipotentiary power to coordinate the Persian war strategy.  Cyrus decided that a Peloponnesian victory was in his interest. He was aiming to kill his elder brother Artaxerxes II and capture the throne of the Persian Empire after his father’s death. 

Cyrus believed that in return for the help that he was giving to the Peloponnesian side, the Greeks would provide him with hoplite soldiers to defeat his brother’s army. He was particularly impressed by Lysander, the Spartan Admiral. Lysander was a polished courtier, a suave strategist, and a brilliant general. He understood what Cyrus wanted, and Cyrus in turn realized that Lysander had the capacity to win the war. With the substantial sum of money that Cyrus delivered to him, Lysander expanded the Spartan fleet. 

The Spartans knew that the Athenians would never accept defeat until they were decisively beaten in a sea battle. The Spartan and Athenian sides fought two naval battles in 406 BC, neither of which proved decisive. In the first battle, the Spartan side had an edge and in the second one the Athenian side. The Spartans offered a peace negotiation to the Athenians in 405 BC, but the Athenians refused to negotiate unless the Spartans gave them the Ionian cities in Asia Minor. The Spartans could not do that since they had promised the Ionian cities to the Persians. 

Meanwhile the Spartans recalled Lysander in 405 BC. He had been retired in 406 BC in accordance with the Spartan law. Lysander used his connections with Cyrus to quickly raise funds for adding more vessels and crew to the Spartan navy.

With his fleet, Lysander sailed into Hellespont in the summer of 405 BC, He captured and destroyed a number of cities and islands that were allied to Athens. Colonists from these cities and islands fled to Athens making the city swell with refugees. With its navy gone, and being surrounded by the Spartan forces on all sides, Athens could not procure food for its population. The worst thing from the Athenian perspective was that they did not have the funds to rebuild their fleet. The Athenian assembly authorized Theramenes to negotiate the peace terms. Theramenes managed to convince the Spartans that Athens should not be sacked and destroyed, as many of the allies of Sparta (like Corinth) had been insisting.

Having won the Peloponnesian War, the Spartans now had to help Cyrus to become the King of Persia. Soon after Cyrus arrived in Asia Minor to coordinate the war against Athens, Darius II had fallen ill. He died in 404 BC, and Artaxerxes II was proclaimed the new King. Time was running out for Cyrus. He had to declare war before Artaxerxes had the time to consolidate his rule over the Persian Empire. From all over Greece, the Spartans raised an army of 10,000 Greek hoplites to fight for Cyrus. These 10,000 hoplites joined a Persian army of 30,000 that Cyrus and his generals had raised. In 401 BC, Cyrus made his bold move—with his army of 40,000, he marched through Asia Minor, towards Babylon.

Artaxerxes gathered his own army. The two armies met in 401 BC, at the Battle of Cunaxa. The Greek hoplites won the war, but Cyrus was killed. Cyrus was a hothead. When he saw his brother on the battlefield, he broke out of the protective ring of bodyguards around him and charged at his brother. He was surrounded by the enemy troops and cut down. With the prince for whom they had arrived to fight the war dead, the Greeks were in a terrible state of confusion. They decided to negotiate with Artaxerxes. But the negotiation was a trap. Artaxerxes had the Greek generals, who arrived in his camp for carrying out the negotiations, decapitated.

The Greeks then elected new generals. One of these generals was Xenophon, the Athenian philosopher and historian. In his seven volume work the Anabasis, Xenophon has described the spectacular retreat of the Greek forces from Persia. The Greek hoplites marched for weeks through the desert where little food was available. They marched through snow-filled mountain passes. They fought several battles on their way. Whatever they needed to sustain themselves, they got through force or diplomacy. Their aim was to reach the Black Sea where some Greek cities were located. The word “Anabasis” is generally translated as The March Up Country or as The March of the Ten Thousand.

Xenophon’s account of the exploits of the 10,000 Greek hoplites in Persia became famous in the Greek world. The Greeks did not see the seven books of Anabasis as a story of retreat through Persia but as a blueprint for defeating the Persian Empire. Three generations later, the Anabasis must have inspired Alexander (the future Alexander the Great) into believing that a disciplined Greek army could capture the Persian Empire.

कृष्ण की चेतावनी (Krishna Ki Chetavani)

Poem by Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar' (रामधारी सिंह ‘दिनकर’)

वर्षों तक वन में घूम-घूम,
बाधा-विघ्नों को चूम-चूम,
सह धूप-घाम, पानी-पत्थर,
पांडव आये कुछ और निखर।
सौभाग्य न सब दिन सोता है,
देखें, आगे क्या होता है।

मैत्री की राह बताने को,
सबको सुमार्ग पर लाने को,
दुर्योधन को समझाने को,
भीषण विध्वंस बचाने को,
भगवान् हस्तिनापुर आये,
पांडव का संदेशा लाये।

‘दो न्याय अगर तो आधा दो,
पर, इसमें भी यदि बाधा हो,
तो दे दो केवल पाँच ग्राम,
रक्खो अपनी धरती तमाम।
हम वहीं खुशी से खायेंगे,
परिजन पर असि न उठायेंगे!

दुर्योधन वह भी दे ना सका,
आशीष समाज की ले न सका,
उलटे, हरि को बाँधने चला,
जो था असाध्य, साधने चला।
जब नाश मनुज पर छाता है,
पहले विवेक मर जाता है।

हरि ने भीषण हुंकार किया,
अपना स्वरूप-विस्तार किया,
डगमग-डगमग दिग्गज डोले,
भगवान् कुपित होकर बोले-
‘जंजीर बढ़ा कर साध मुझे,
हाँ, हाँ दुर्योधन! बाँध मुझे।

यह देख, गगन मुझमें लय है,
यह देख, पवन मुझमें लय है,
मुझमें विलीन झंकार सकल,
मुझमें लय है संसार सकल।
अमरत्व फूलता है मुझमें,
संहार झूलता है मुझमें।

‘उदयाचल मेरा दीप्त भाल,
भूमंडल वक्षस्थल विशाल,
भुज परिधि-बन्ध को घेरे हैं,
मैनाक-मेरु पग मेरे हैं।
दिपते जो ग्रह नक्षत्र निकर,
सब हैं मेरे मुख के अन्दर।

‘दृग हों तो दृश्य अकाण्ड देख,
मुझमें सारा ब्रह्माण्ड देख,
चर-अचर जीव, जग, क्षर-अक्षर,
नश्वर मनुष्य सुरजाति अमर।
शत कोटि सूर्य, शत कोटि चन्द्र,
शत कोटि सरित, सर, सिन्धु मन्द्र।

‘शत कोटि विष्णु, ब्रह्मा, महेश,
शत कोटि जिष्णु, जलपति, धनेश,
शत कोटि रुद्र, शत कोटि काल,
शत कोटि दण्डधर लोकपाल।
जञ्जीर बढ़ाकर साध इन्हें,
हाँ-हाँ दुर्योधन! बाँध इन्हें।

‘भूलोक, अतल, पाताल देख,
गत और अनागत काल देख,
यह देख जगत का आदि-सृजन,
यह देख, महाभारत का रण,
मृतकों से पटी हुई भू है,
पहचान, इसमें कहाँ तू है।

‘अम्बर में कुन्तल-जाल देख,
पद के नीचे पाताल देख,
मुट्ठी में तीनों काल देख,
मेरा स्वरूप विकराल देख।
सब जन्म मुझी से पाते हैं,
फिर लौट मुझी में आते हैं।

‘जिह्वा से कढ़ती ज्वाल सघन,
साँसों में पाता जन्म पवन,
पड़ जाती मेरी दृष्टि जिधर,
हँसने लगती है सृष्टि उधर!
मैं जभी मूँदता हूँ लोचन,
छा जाता चारों ओर मरण।

‘बाँधने मुझे तो आया है,
जंजीर बड़ी क्या लाया है?
यदि मुझे बाँधना चाहे मन,
पहले तो बाँध अनन्त गगन।
सूने को साध न सकता है,
वह मुझे बाँध कब सकता है?

‘हित-वचन नहीं तूने माना,
मैत्री का मूल्य न पहचाना,
तो ले, मैं भी अब जाता हूँ,
अन्तिम संकल्प सुनाता हूँ।
याचना नहीं, अब रण होगा,
जीवन-जय या कि मरण होगा।

‘टकरायेंगे नक्षत्र-निकर,
बरसेगी भू पर वह्नि प्रखर,
फण शेषनाग का डोलेगा,
विकराल काल मुँह खोलेगा।
दुर्योधन! रण ऐसा होगा।
फिर कभी नहीं जैसा होगा।

‘भाई पर भाई टूटेंगे,
विष-बाण बूँद-से छूटेंगे,
वायस-श्रृगाल सुख लूटेंगे,
सौभाग्य मनुज के फूटेंगे।
आखिर तू भूशायी होगा,
हिंसा का पर, दायी होगा।’

थी सभा सन्न, सब लोग डरे,
चुप थे या थे बेहोश पड़े।
केवल दो नर ना अघाते थे,
धृतराष्ट्र-विदुर सुख पाते थे।
कर जोड़ खड़े प्रमुदित निर्भय, 
दोनों पुकारते थे ‘जय-जय’!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Genghis Khan: The Abel Who Conquered Cain

Genghis Khan was the archetype of Abel, the character in the fable of the first two sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. Abel was the herder, the nomad, the rustic free spirit of the steppes. Cain was the farmer, the city builder, the urbanite. There could be no compromise between the two brothers. Their differences were irreconcilable. In the fable, Cain kills Abel—which implies a victory of the man of civilization over the nomadic herder. 

What if Abel had killed Cain? There are instances in history where the men who are the archetype of Abel have prevailed. The thirteenth century rampage of Genghis Khan across Europe and Asia is one such instance. 

The world might know Genghis Khan as a brutal warlord, but he was first and foremost the political and philosophical leader of the nomadic herders (people like Abel), He believed that the nomadic life of the herder is the best way of life for man. He was an implacable foe of the farmers, the industrialists, the city builders, and the city dwellers. He destroyed walled cities, because he believed that these cities were built on land stolen from the pasture grounds of the nomadic herders. He destroyed farmers and their farmland, because he wanted to reclaim the land for pastures on which the herders would graze their cattle and ride their horses. He destroyed the dykes which diverted water for irrigation, because he wanted the rivers to flow freely.

Genghis Khan began his ascent to power towards the end of the twelfth century, and he quickly became the brutal avenger of the Abels’ of the world. The civilized Cains’ had usurped the pasture land belonging to the Abels’—they had built walls and farmlands which obstructed the movement of horses and cattle belonging to the herders. Genghis Khan dedicated his life to slaughtering the Cains’ and destroying their property. With his Mongol army of nomadic herders, he raided and conquered much of Eastern Europe (as far as Poland), and large parts of the Levant, Western China, Georgia, Bulgaria, and several cities in what is modern Russia.

Wherever Genghis Khan’s Mongol army went, their clarion call was “tear down the walls,” and destroy the urban and farming centers. In China, Genghis Khan personally supervised the reclamation of farmland for pastures, and the destruction of the irrigation systems. He showed no mercy to the aristocratic classes. He never kidnapped the aristocrats for ransom as other conquerors of his time did—he had them slaughtered. He saw the aristocrats as the mortal foe of the herders, since the aristocrats represented the acme of urbanization and civilization.

But the Abel that Genghis Khan epitomized was betrayed by his descendants who developed a taste for luxurious living. Instead of moving nomadically from one battlefield to another, they wanted to settle down in grand places built in walled imperial cities. They wanted to wear gold and diamond jewelry and silk garments. They would not dare to build imperial cities and grand palaces in Mongolia because in this country the herder spirit of Genghis Khan reigned supreme. They created their imperial cities, farming and trading empires, and grand palaces outside Mongolia, in other parts of the world.

Within two decades of Genghis Khan’s death, the Mongol Empire ceased to be an empire of the nomadic herders—it became a technocratic, bureaucratic, and sophisticated imperial civilization whose economy was based not on looting from the Cains’ of the world (as was the case in the time of Genghis Khan) but on manufacturing, farming, and trade. Kublai Khan and Hulagu Khan, two of the most illustrious descendants of Genghis Khan, were incapable of living as nomads. They lived in their luxurious and well-protected grand palaces built in imperial cities.

History is full of conflicts between the Cain and Abel archetypes: the Romans versus the Huns, the Sassanid Shahs versus the Hephthalites, Britain and France versus the Vikings, Germany and the Byzantine states of South Italy versus the Norman raiders, the Byzantines versus the Avars and Bulguars, the Byzantines versus the Seljuk Turks, the Abbasids versus the Turks, the Aztecs versus the Conquistadors, the Caliphate versus the Turks, the European settlers versus the Native Indians. In some contests, the Able archetype has prevailed and in some the Cain archetype.

The clash between the nomadic herders and urbanized settlers that transpired in North America between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries is an interesting history by itself. Led by leaders like Crazy Horse, Wild Cat (Coacoochee), Little Turtle, Blue Jacket, Red Eagle, Sitting Bull, Tecumseh, and several others, the native Indians fought valiantly. But none of the native Indian leaders was a philosopher, politician, and military commander of the calibre of Genghis Khan. They did not have the charisma to unite the tribes of North America into a savage army like Genghis Khan had united the tribes of Mongolia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The Europeans were farmers, settlers, and industrialists—they were politicians, educationists, lawyers, managers, and bureaucrats. They wanted to build cities where they would lead an urbanized life. They could easily conquer the disunited tribes of North America. Their victory over the native nomadic tribes created space for the rise of the modern USA which is the civilization of the Cain archetype. But the contest between Cain and Abel is not over. A large number of people, even in the advanced countries, are of the nomadic mindset. When the USA declines, the army of nomads will find the space to arise, and they will try to conquer civilization.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Men Live as Fishes

Men live on land as the fishes live in water—the great ones thrive by eating the small ones. Men have two choices: either they can be the big fish (great man) who lives by eating the small fishes (small men), or they can be the small fish who will get eaten by the great ones. The same rule applies to nations. The great nations thrive by eating the small (weak and foolish) nations. 

Here’s a dialogue from the play written by Shakespeare, Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Third Freshman: “Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.”

First Freshman: “Why, as men do a-land: the great ones eat up the little ones. I can compare our rich misers to nothing so fitly as to a whale: he plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him and at last devours them all at a mouthful. Such whales have I heard on a’ the land, who never leave gaping till they swallowed the whole parish—church, steeple, bells and all.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Two Philosophers: Genghis Khan and John Locke

Genghis Khan was a courageous warrior, a brilliant and ruthless military commander, an inspiring political leader, and an original philosopher. Edward Gibbon believed that the religious philosophy of Genghis Khan had inspired John Locke. In Volume Four of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon wrote: “But it is the religion of Zingis that best deserves our wonder and applause. The Catholic inquisitors of Europe who defended nonsense by cruelty, might have been confounded by the example of a barbarian, who anticipated the lessons of philosophy and established by his laws a system of pure theism and perfect toleration." [Gibbon has used the name Zingis Khan for Genghis Khan.]

In a footnote on the same page, Gibbon left this intriguing comment: “A singular conformity might be found between the religious laws of Zingis Khan and Mr. Locke.” To justify his contention of a connection between Khan and Locke, Gibbon specifically cites the constitution of South Carolina, then a British colony. Locke had played a fundamental role in the drafting of the constitution of South Carolina. Gibbon believed that Locke’s utopian constitution for South Carolina was inspired by Genghis Khan’s vision of a secular political community based on common law. 

The great achievement of Genghis Khan and his descendants was not that they conquered several tribes, cities, and nations, and created the largest contiguous land empire in history, but that they enabled people of different faiths, cultures, and geographical backgrounds live together under the Great Law (the constitution of the Mongol Empire). The Great Law made it a crime to victimize any person in the Mongol Empire on account of his religion. While most Mongols adhered to the Mongol tradition of God of the “deep blue sky,” a significant part of the population of the Mongol Empire was made of Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Confucians, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Manichaeans, and animalists. The Mongol Empire served as a religious and cultural melting pot—it was history’s unrivaled carrier of ideas.

The founding fathers of America were aware of the philosophy of Genghis Khan. The biography of Genghis Khan, History of Genghizcan the Great, First Emperor of the Ancient Moguls and Tartars (published in 1710), edited by the French scholar François Pétis de la Croix, was introduced to the American colonies by Benjamin Franklin. The book was in the library of George Washington. Thomas Jefferson possessed several copies of this biography. He presented the book to his granddaughter Cornelia Jefferson Randolph as a gift on her seventeenth birthday, and on the book’s first page he wrote a note that she must try to learn from Genghis Khan’s biography. Jefferson’s copies of the book have entered the United States Library of Congress and the library of University of Virginia. On May 26, 1795, Jefferson wrote a letter to Jean Francois Froulle, a bookseller in Paris, asking him to send him more leather bound copies of the book. 

In his work of history, Gibbon has devoted several passages to describing the conquests of Genghis Khan and his descendants. Here’s a line from Gibbon, “By the arms of Zingis and his descendants, the globe was shaken from China to Poland and Greece: the sultans were overthrown: the caliphs fell, and the Caesars trembled on their throne.” The Mongol tribe under Genghis Khan numbered about a million—from this small tribe he recruited an army of less than one hundred thousand warriors who destroyed the old decadent civilizations and created space for the emergence of a new world.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Mongol Way of War: The Conquest of Baghdad

“I never fight the same war twice.” ~ a saying attributed to Genghis Khan. The meaning of the saying is that the Mongols used a different strategy in every major battle—that is how they managed to outfox and surprise the military of the nations and cities that they planned to conquer. The Mongols were fast learners. They mastered new techniques of war from the experience of every battle that they fought. 

In the early days of Mongol conquests, Genghis Khan realized that his military was finding it difficult to cross rivers and to conquer walled cities and fortified castles. He created a core of engineers for building bridges, catapults, armored siege towers, and other machines of war. The Mongol engineers had the ability to improvise with whatever material was available locally and create a weapon. They often diverted rivers to flood the walled cities and force its rulers to open the city’s gate. 

During the siege of Baghdad, which began on January 29, 1258, Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, used an advanced form of gunpowder which produced an explosion instead of fire. The Mongol craftsmen had created tubes that were small enough to be operated by a single soldier. The larger tubes needed more soldiers to operate but could hurl big ceramic balls containing explosive gunpowder mixed with shrapnel. This was a new innovation. The people of the Levant had not encountered the explosive form of gunpowder before.

Hulagu’s army bombarded Baghdad from such distance that they were out of range of the weapons that the city’s defenders had. The city’s rulers and residents were frustrated by the relentless bombardment. The Mongols planted explosives under the walls of Baghdad and created gaps through which their warriors could rush into the city. When the Caliph of Baghdad sent out a force of 20,000 cavalry, the Mongol engineers diverted the river Tigris behind the Arab cavalry, trapping them outside the city and then killing most of them.

After the annihilation of the cavalry, the nobles of Baghdad (about 3000 of them) came out of the city to negotiate with Hulagu but they were slaughtered. Hulagu knew that he was on the verge of conquering Baghdad and so he was not interested in negotiating—he was also following the Mongol policy of sparing most of the common citizens and slaughtering the nobility, because only the nobility had the power to cause rebellions against Mongol rule. The Caliph of Baghdad surrendered on February 10, 1258, thirteen days after the siege began. The Mongols entered the city on February 13. 

Halagu established an Ilkhanate whose core territory consisted of Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. At its largest extent, it included parts of modern Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, part of modern Dagestan, and part of modern Tajikistan. The Ilkhanate lasted till 1335.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Hulagu’s Campaign Against the Sect of Assassins

In 1253, Mongke Khan, Great Khan of the Mongol Empire (he was the eldest son of Genghis Khan’s son Tolui and Sorghaghtani Beki), decided that it was time to achieve Genghis Khan’s dream of conquering the Islamic civilization in the Levant and the Sung dynasty’s territory in South China. He summoned his two brothers, Hulagu and Kublai. He assigned the Arab lands to Hulagu, who was known for his military expertise, and to Kublai, known for his good knowledge of Chinese culture, he assigned South China. Being the Great Khan, Mongke would remain in the center of Mongolia.

In this article I will talk about Hulagu’s campaign against the Nizari Ismailis sect. Hulagu collected the largest army ever assembled by the Mongols. His first target was to conquer Baghdad, and after that he planned to capture Damascus and Cairo. But to reach Baghdad, his military would have to pass through areas which were in the control of the Nizari Ismailis sect whose members were known in Western Europe as the Assassins. In Mongolia, this sect was known as the Hashshashin—it was rumored that their assassins operated under the influence of hashish. The leader of the sect was the Imam, also known as the Grand Master and the Old Man of the Mountain.

In the time of Genghis Khan’s invasion of the Levant, the Imam had sided with the Mongols. When Genghis Khan’s military returned to Mongolia after destroying the Turkic sultan of the Khwarezmian Empire in Iran, there was a power vacuum which the Nizari Ismailis sect had occupied. In the time of Hulagu, the sect was in control of territory extending from Afghanistan to Syria. They operated out of a string of self-sufficient and strategic castles located on mountainsides. The most important of these castles was Alamut, the Eagle’s Nest, in northern Persia. They did not possess a conventional military, but they exercised tremendous political power because of the fearsome reputation of their assassins and their brutal terror tactics.

The Nizari Ismailis sect had tried to assassinate the Great Khan Mongke after he ascended the throne of the Mongol Empire in 1251. Claiming that they wanted to pay homage to the new Great Khan, the sect had sent a large delegation, which included forty assassins, to Mongolia. But the Mongols did not allow the delegation to approach their Great Khan. They were turned back and the assassination attempt was thwarted. William of Rubruck, a Flemish priest sent on a mission to Mongolia in 1253, was surprised to see the immense security precautions around the Great Khan. The security was in response to the assassination attempts by the Nizari Ismaili sect.

Mongke and Hulagu were determined to crush the sect of assassins. When Hulagu reached the assassin territory in March 1253, the Imam of Nizari Ismaili sect had been killed in factional fighting and the power had gone into the hands of his son, who was in his late twenties and was rumored to be a hashish addict. The Mongols started destroying the strategic castles through which the Nizari Ismaili sect exercised its power. After he had lost several of his castles in the outlying areas, the new Imam tried to appease the Mongols. He started sending conciliatory messages to the Mongol Camp. Hulagu would consider nothing less than absolute capitulation. But he agreed to show clemency to the Imam if he surrendered.

In 1256, the Mongols were fighting in the Nizari Ismaili heartland of Alamut and Rudbar. Hulegu had brought with him a core of engineers for building armored siege towers, bridges, and catapults. To destroy the fortifications in the mountainside castles, his army used armored siege towers to hurl javelins dipped in burning pitch. They used an advanced form of gunpowder to blow the walls of the castles. Once the fortifications were destroyed, and gaps had been created in the castle walls, the Mongol warriors would scale the steep mountains and kill everyone inside the castles in hand to hand fighting. 

In November 1256, the Imam of Nizari Ismailis realized that his sect could not fight Hulegu’s Mongol army. He decided to surrender unconditionally. He ordered his castles to capitulate to the Mongols and dismantle their fortifications. After taking control of the Imam, Hulagu paraded him before the Nizari Ismaili castles that were still holding out and forced them to surrender.

By the spring of 1257, Hulagu was in possession of Nizari Ismaili sect’s entire territory. He had no further use of the Imam, who was dispatched to Mongolia for an audience with the Great Khan Mongke. After a journey of several months, the Imam and his retinue, escorted by Mongol troops, arrived in Mongolia. Here the Imam was berated by Mongke for standing in the way of the Mongol military. He ordered the Imam to return to his homeland. On his way back, the Imam and his retinue were slaughtered by the Mongol troops. Mongke ordered a massacre of the members of the Nizari Ismailis sect. Most estimates suggest that around 100000 followers of the sect were killed.

With the Nizari Ismailis sect vanquished, Hulagu’s road to Baghdad was wide open. He began his march to Baghdad in November 1257. The Mongol military besieged Baghdad on January 29, 1258, and in just thirteen days, the city capitulated. The Mongol army marched into the city on February 10, 1258. The Western crusaders could not conquer Baghdad in two centuries, but the Mongol army conquered the city in thirteen days.

The Coup and the Revolution Away from Communism

In October 1958, General Ayub Khan seized the presidency of Pakistan in a military coup which he described as “a revolution away from communism.” 

The American political establishment was convinced that Ayub Khan was a staunch anti-communist and a valuable ally against the Soviet Union. They saw the coup as a pro-capitalism political action. Ayub Khan was allowed to impose martial law in Pakistan without any criticism from the American and European establishments. Ayub Khan shrewdly explained that the martial law was a temporary measure and that it was “harsh only to those who have been destroying Pakistan’s moral fibre.” 

President Eisenhower authorized the sale of a massive quantity of weapons to Ayub Khan’s military regime. Sidewinder missiles, jet fighters, and B-57 tactical bombers were among the cutting edge military hardware that Pakistan received.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

History Does not Recognize Human Values

People want to believe that truth, morality, and virtue will prevail in the end, but that end in which these values will prevail never arrives. History has no end and no beginning. The notion of our values prevailing in the end is meaningless, since the end of history will not be reached in our lifetime and after any number of lifetimes. The values of truth, morality, and virtue play no role in the contests of history. The causes which attain victory in any age are those which are backed by great strength, ruthless strategy, extreme passion and ambition, religious zeal, and good luck. But the contest goes on in an infinite future—today’s winners can be tomorrow’s losers if they lose the qualities that had once allowed them to prevail.

Genghis Khan’s Fable of Unity

In the second decade of the thirteenth century, when Genghis Khan realized that he was an old man and it was time for him to designate a successor to the Mongol Empire, which by then consisted of most of Asia and a significant part of Eastern Europe, he summoned his sons and told them the Mongolian fable of the single-headed snake and the many-headed snake. 

Once upon a time there was a great cold in Mongolia and the snakes had to go inside their holes to save themselves from freezing. The multiple heads of the many-headed snake quarreled among themselves about which hole was better for finding refuge from the cold. They could not decide and the snake froze to death on the ground. The single-headed snake faced no confusion—it went immediately into one hole and survived the winter. 

Genghis Khan stressed to his sons that if they and the Mongol people became divided, they would lose not just the Mongol empire but also their original homeland. He was right in stressing on the importance of unity. History tells us that the nations where people are united by a common culture and religion survive and thrive; the nations where people are divided and diverse get ripped apart by factionalism and civil wars.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Companies Which Created The British Empire

In 1551, the British government set up an entity called the Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands and Places Unknown (in 1555, this entity was renamed the Muscovy Trading Company). One of the goals of this entity was to raise private capital for funding Britain’s efforts to found colonies in Asia and the Americas.

A number of companies, with focus on different parts of the world, mushroomed around this entity: The Spanish Company, the Eastland Company, the Levant Company, the Russia Company, the Turkey Company, the Venice Company, the Barbary Company, the East India Company, the Virginia Company, the Plymouth Company, the French Company, and a few others. Since these companies were founded with private capital, their management was to a large extent answerable to the investors.

Britain’s approach to founding colonies through the involvement of the private sector was unique and innovative. By the eighteenth century, Britain was generating more wealth from her colonies than Spain, Portugal, and the Dutch Republic. In the nineteenth century Britain became "the empire on which the sun never sets.”

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Importance of Empires

An empire is a multi-civilizational entity—it is formed by coercing several civilizations to come together,  under the umbrella of a single political system. When several civilizations are united under a single political system, there is a massive exchange of knowledge on science, technology, manufacturing, philosophy, politics, art, and literature. People from different civilizations interact with each other and they learn from each other. Stronger business relationships develop. Communication and transportation networks which span the globe get created. Without the empires of the past (the British Empire in particular), the civilizations of the world would be existing mostly in isolation. By unifying the civilizations, the empires have played a critical role.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Natural State of Mankind: War or Peace?

In the past all history was made by wars, and the present incorporates the past. The history of the world-historical nations (nations of global significance) is the history of the wars that these nations have fought.

The naive desires confer a privileged status to peace: the majority desires to live in a society in which no one dies a violent death, and they rationalize that peace is the natural state for mankind. But what is peace? In the context of history, peace is a negative term—it means the absence of war. Without using the terminology of war, peace cannot be defined. In the case of world historical nations, the periods of peace represent a cold war between the belligerents. There has never been a peace that cannot be seen in terms of a cold war. In the Classical Age, the Athenian Empire, the Spartan Empire, and the Persian Empire were either in the state of war or cold war. The same situation exists in all other ages—either the nations go to war or to cold war.

People love to read about wars. History books on wars often make it to the bestseller lists; the books on the peaceful periods are hardly read. We love to read about wars because, if not consciously then at a subconscious level, we are more intimate with wars than with the periods of peace. Our cultural and political roots are in the wars that our ancestors have fought, even in those wars in which our ancestors lost. We care more about knowing about the wars. When we read about the wars, we immediately grasp what these wars imply for the culture and politics of the present. A nation that has not fought wars has no history; its people have no story—they are like animals who live to eat and procreate. It is through our wars that we become human.

There can be counterarguments to everything that I have said in the above paragraphs. But that does not imply that I am incorrect. Every argument has its opposite and both can be countered. To see clearly, one needs to get out of the cycle of these back and forth arguments: the naive desires that have led to the belief that peace is a natural state for mankind must be discarded because history tells us that our natural state is the state of war.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Ancient Greek Way of Drinking Wine

The Ancient Greeks believed that only the barbarians would drink their wine unmixed with water. They had the theory that drinking unmixed wine results in insanity and even death. They asserted that mixing water in wine before drinking is the hallmark of a civilized person. Since the Macedonians and the Thracians drank their wine unmixed (according to the Athenian accounts), the Athenians and the Spartans regarded them as barbarians, and tried to avoid their company. The Athenian texts make fun of the drinking habits of the Macedonians and the Thracians.

The Greek mythology of that time used to reflect on the barbaric impact of unmixed wine. There is the mythological story of Lapiths battle with the Centaurs, in which the centaurs became roaring drunk after taking too much unmixed wine during the wedding feast of Pirithous at the city of Thessaly. They started misbehaving with the women at the feast. Centaur Eurytion tried to abduct the bride. Other centaurs tried to abduct other ladies. The men rushed to save their women, and a major battle ensued. The Homeric Demigod Theseus joined the battle on the side of the men and the centaurs were defeated. The nose and ears of Eurytion and other offending centaurs were cut off and they were banished from Thessaly.

In his book, Vintage: The Story of Wine, Hugh Johnson writes: “The peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the olive and the vine.”

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Old Man of the Mountain

Saladin was the target of several assassination attempts in the 1170s when he was trying to subdue Syria. The assassins (hashashins) belonging to the sect run by the fearsome Iraqi leader Rashid al-Din Sinan, popularly known as the Old Man of the Mountain, came close to killing Saladin on at least two occasions. In the last three decades of the twelfth century, Sinan’s sect was an unpredictable and formidable player in the politics of the Levant—their assassins often proved as effective as a military force.

William of Tyre, twelfth century chronicler, believed that Sinan commanded absolute loyalty from his men. In his Chronicle on Jerusalem, William of Tyre wrote, “they [Sinan’s followers] regard nothing as too harsh or difficult and eagerly undertake even the most dangerous tasks at his command.” Saladin was forced to delay his Syrian conquests by several years because of the threat that he faced from Sinan’s assassins.

In early 1175, when Saladin’s army laid siege to Aleppo, a group of thirteen assassins managed to enter the inner circle of his camp. One of these assassins forced his way into Saladin’s sleeping quarter. He tried to strike Saladin with a knife while he was in his bed, but the royal bodyguards managed to cut him down. The assassination attempt was foiled. In May 1176, the assassins struck again. This time one of the assassins managed to strike Saladin on his chest with his sword. But Saladin was saved by the armor that he was wearing. From this time, Saladin did not allow anyone in his presence whom he did not personally recognize.

In August 1176, Saladin decided to wipe out the assassin sect. He laid siege to the assassin castle in Masyaf. But in less than a week, he broke off the siege and retreated to Huma. The chroniclers of that period assert that Saladin decided to lift the siege because the assassin sect had threatened an unrelenting campaign against him and his Abbasid clan.

In his book The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, Bernard Lewis quotes a twelfth century source which gives a chilling explanation for Saladin’s decision to lift the siege. While the siege was on, an envoy of Sinan arrived to negotiate. The envoy was searched for weapons and then brought before Saladin. The envoy insisted that he wanted to talk to the Sultan in private. Saladin dismissed everyone except two of his most trusted guards whom he regarded as his sons. Here’s an excerpt from the passage that Lewis quotes from the ancient source:

“The envoy then turned to the pair of guards and said: “If I ordered you in the name of my master to kill this sultan, would you do so?” They answered yes, and drew their swords saying: “Command us as you wish.” Saladin was astounded, and the messenger left, taking the two guards with him. And thereafter Saladin inclined to make peace with him [Sinan].”

Conrad of Montserrat, Italian nobleman who was a major participant in the Third Crusade, was assassinated in Tyre, a crusader held city, on April 28, 1192, by two assassins belonging to Sinan’s sect. One of the two assassins was caught by the crusaders, and under intense interrogation he confessed that Richard Lionheart of England had paid Sinan to get Conrad assassinated. But this accusation against Richard is impossible to prove.

The Natural Law of Geopolitics

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, said, “To advance is to conquer.” He was right. History tells us that it is not possible for a civilization to remain neutral and keep its borders and culture intact. If the civilization is not advancing and not conquering then, by the natural law of geopolitics, it will decline and surrender territory and culture, and at some point of time, it will be overcome by another civilization or several civilizations which are advancing. All world-historical civilizations (civilizations of global significance) are advancing and conquering civilizations.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Athenians at War: With Persia and Sparta

In 460 BC, Inaros II, a pharaoh from an ancient line of Egyptian rulers, rebelled against the Persian Empire, then the sovereign of Egypt. The Athenians decided to support the rebellion. Egypt was a prize worth fighting for because if the Egyptian rebellion succeeded, Athens would be assured of a regular supply of grains. In the same year, there was the outbreak of the First Peloponnesian War, in which the Athenian alliance was pitted against the Spartan alliance. The Athenian thinking at that time was that they possessed the military and economic resources to fight the Spartans and at the same time provide military aid to the Egyptian rebels.

In the early stages of the Egyptian rebellion, the momentum was on the Athenian and Egyptian side. They killed the Persian general Achaemenes in 460 BC, and forced the Persian army to retreat to Memphis, a city in Lower Egypt, where the Persians made their stand. The Athenians and the Egyptians besieged the city. The contest between the Persians and the Athenians was simultaneously happening on the sea. Athenian generals Charitimides and Cimon sank a number of Persian vessels and captured a few of them.

The primary theatre of war for the Athenians was not Egypt—it was the Greek world, where they were pitted against the Spartan alliance. Here too they were doing well. The Spartans had a string of mishaps in the land and sea battles, and towards the middle of the 450s BC, it appeared as if the Athenians might win the First Peloponnesian War. Being confident of victory, they pulled out some naval resources from the Peloponnesian War and deployed them in the Egyptian rebellion. But they had underestimated the resolve of Persian Emperor Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes, to mount a counteroffensive to save the Egyptian part of his empire.

Artaxerxes dispatched reinforcements with a new general called Megabyzus to Egypt. The arrival of Megabyzus changed the situation in Memphis which was being besieged by the Athenians and the Egyptians for more than four years. He adopted an aggressive strategy. The Persian army poured out of the city while the reinforcements that he had brought with him from Persia attacked the besieging army from the other side. The Athenians and the Egyptians were caught between two waves of Persian armies and there was chaos in their ranks. They were forced to retreat.

The Egyptian rebels melted into the countryside, and while a small group of Athenian soldiers retreated to an island called Prosopitis in the Nile Delta where their triremes were moored. But before they could launch their triremes into the sea, Megabyzus arrived with his army and surrounded the island. During the eighteen months of standoff that followed, the Persians drained the Nile Delta by digging several canals. With all water around the island gone, the Athenian triremes were now stuck on dry land. The Persians walked over the dry river bed and captured the triremes and the Athenian soldiers. A few Athenian soldiers managed to reach Athens after months of marching through Libya to Cyrene.

The Egyptian adventure was a major military disaster for the Athenians. They had lost not just a significant part of their army and naval vessels but also their reputation of naval superiority. The word spread through the Greek world that the entire Athenian navy was destroyed by the Persians. A series of rebellions erupted in the Athenian Delian league. This was a decisive point in the power struggle within the Greek world, as the balance of power started shifting towards the Spartan side. The Athenian leadership realized that they had invested too much resources in Egypt and they brought an end to the commitments that they had made to the rebels led by Inaros II. In 454 BC, Inaros II was captured by the Persian forces and executed.

In 451 BC, the Athenian leader Pericles recalled Cimon, who was ostracized and exiled in 461 BC, and ordered him to use his good connections with the Spartans for negotiating a five year temporary peace with them. Cimon succeeded in negotiating a temporary peace. Now Pericles was free to deploy the full strength of the Athenian navy on settling the conflict with the Persians. In 449 BC, the Athenian navy defeated the Persian fleet near Callias. This defeat forced the Persians to come to the negotiating table. The Peace of Callias was negotiated and the war between the Athenians and the Persians came to an end.

The next step for Pericles was to negotiate with the Spartan King Pleistoanax. They agreed to thirty years of peace between Athens and Sparta (starting from 446 BC). In the statement of account that Pericles later submitted to the Athenian assembly, he had mentioned "10 talents necessary expenses.” This fueled the rumor in the Greek world that Pericles had given 10 talents to Pleistoanax as a bribe to get him to agree to the Thirty Years’ peace treaty. The Spartans believed the rumors and they exiled Pleistoanax, but they did not rescind the peace treaty.

Trump's Questions, My Answer

The one word answer to Trump’s four fundamental questions is: No. The West has entered into a historical phase of decline and fall that will last for at least two hundred years, possibly more than that. The non-Western nations which do not prepare themselves for a post-Western geopolitical environment will suffer very badly. 

Here are the four questions that Trump asked in his speech in Poland on July 6, 2017:

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Anglo-Saxons of the Byzantine Empire

After the defeat of the Anglo-Saxons by the Norman-French in the Battle of Hastings, fought on 14 October 1066, the Byzantine Empire became the destination for numerous Anglo-Saxon soldiers who were looking for a new employment. The Byzantine Empire in those days was in need of valiant mercenaries, and it was a good paymaster. 

The Játvarðar Saga, which is the Icelandic story of the life of Edward the Confessor, King of England (1042–1066), relates that, immediately after the Battle of Hastings, a large body of Anglo-Saxon nobles, soldiers, and their families fled from England in 350 ships to escape the wrath of William the Conqueror, the first Norman monarch of England. After several adventures in the Mediterranean, in which they defeated the infidels and took their gold and silver, they reached Sicily, where they learned that Constantinople was being besieged by Seljuk Turks. The Anglo-Saxons arrived in Constantinople and defeated the besieging Seljuk fleet and army, and won the gratitude of the Byzantine Emperor who gave them important positions in his army. 

The Anglo-Saxon soldiers rose rapidly through the ranks of the Byzantine army. Many of them were chosen for serving in the elite Varangian Guard, which had the responsibility of guarding the Emperor and important members of the Royal family. The Byzantine Emperor told the Anglo-Saxons that they could build their settlement in the land to the north-east of the Black Sea which once belonged to his kingdom but was now occupied by invaders. The Anglo-Saxons defeated the invaders, evicted them from the land, and made that land their own settlement. They named this land Nova Anglia (New England). Till the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans in 1453, the Anglo-Saxons continued to dominate the Varangian Guard.

Sir Walter Scott’s 1831 novel Count Robert of Paris is set in Constantinople at the end of the eleventh century, the time of the First Crusade. Anna Komnene, daughter of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, plays an important role in the novel, as herself. Scott presents Anna as a brilliant historian and philosopher, but he gives her the character of a spoiled princess who feels that she is entitled to rule, and is constantly being pampered by professional courtiers and her doting mother, Empress Irene Doukaina. Her father is always feeling plagued by political and militaristic problems, and he lets her have her way in almost everything.

The protagonist of the novel is a young, handsome Anglo-Saxon called Hereward, who is employed in the elite Varangian Guard and has the responsibility of guarding Anna’s father, the Emperor. While Hereward is a fictional character, the Count Robert in the novel is inspired by the deeds of a Frankish Knight, a minor historical character, who arrived to the Byzantine Empire with the First Crusade and created a diplomatic scandal, during the oath taking ceremony, when he occupied the Byzantine’s Emperor’s throne, probably because he mistook it for an empty seat.

The presence of a gallery of famous leaders of the First Crusade brings a sense of realism to Scott’s novel: Godfrey de Bouillon, Peter the Hermit, Count Baldwin (future Baldwin I of Jerusalem), Count de Vermandois, Bohemond I of Antioch, Prince Tancred of Otranto (future Tancred, Prince of Galilee), and Raymond IV (Count of Toulouse). 

Anna’s husband in real life, Nikephoros Bryennios, is present in the novel. Scott characterizes Nikephoros as a lecher who tries to seduce Count Robert’s wife, an amazonian woman called Lady Brenhilda. She challenges Nikephoros for a duel, promising to give herself to him if he wins. Count Robert presents himself at the duel in his wife’s place. But Nikephoros does not arrive because he is arrested on the orders of the Emperor for his involvement in a coup attempt.

The Corinthian War

In 404 BC, the Peloponnesian War ended with the victory of Sparta over Athens. The Spartans thought that they were now the sole superpower of the Greek world. But the Greek city-states, which had fought the war alongside Sparta, saw the political situation differently. They surmised that with the powerful Athenian navy destroyed, they no longer needed Sparta’s protection. They could chart their own policy. There was no reason for them to adhere to Spartan policy. Thus, the situation in the Greek world became much more chaotic.

Meanwhile tensions erupted between the Spartans and the Persian Empire. During the Peloponnesian War, the Spartans had sought the help of the Persians for defeating the Athenians. The Persians were led to believe that in exchange for their help, they would get control of the Greek states in Asia (Ionian cities). But after the Peloponnesian War, the Spartans refused to surrender the Ionian cities to the Persians. To make matters worse, in 401 BC, they backed Cyrus the Younger, son of Darius II, in his abortive coup to capture the Persian throne from his elder brother, Emperor Artaxerxes II. 

Artaxerxes II crushed the coup and had Cyrus the Younger executed. Having saved his throne, Artaxerxes II turned his attention towards the former ally that had betrayed him, Sparta. A war broke out between the Persians and the Spartans in 401 BC. Artaxerxes II made a surprising diplomatic move in 396 BC. He entered into an alliance with the defeated side of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians. Three other Greek city-states, Thebes, Corinth, and Argos, joined the Athenian and Persian side. The Corinthian War was now on. This war would last for twelve years: 395-387 BC.

The Corinthian War ended with a peace treaty imposed by Artaxerxes II. Under the peace treaty, Athenian democracy was restored, the Ionian cities were handed over to the Persians, and the Spartans agreed to play a lesser role in Greek politics.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Battle of the Horns of Hattin

In the spring of 1187, Saladin began to amass his forces for an invasion of Palestine. His goal was to capture Jerusalem. Fighters arrived to join his army from all over the Islamic world. In June 1187, his army of 12,000 professional soldiers and 30,000 volunteers marched into the Frankish territory. They pillaged every Frankish settlement that they encountered, and set fire to the crops.

In 1174, the imperial throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem had gone to King Baldwin IV, a tragic figure who suffered from leprosy. Due to his debilitating disease, he could not do justice to his kingly responsibilities. But he was allowed to stay on the throne of Jerusalem for eleven years, till his death in 1185. His sister Sibylla had married Guy de Lusignan, a foolish and overambitious adventurer from France, who became the next king of Jerusalem, only to lose the city in just two years. 

When Saladin’s army began its march from Egypt, Lusignan ordered a general call to arms. He managed to amass 1200 knights and between 15000 to 20000 soldiers.

Saladin’s plan was to lure Jerusalem’s forces into the open, in a battlefield of his choosing, and defeat them in a pitched battle. He implemented his strategy on 2 July 1187, in the weakly defended town of Tiberias. The small Christian army, which was guarding the town, was quickly vanquished, and Saladin’s forces poured into the town, but they did not capture the citadel in which Eschiva of Bureswife, wife of Raymond III, Count of Tripoli, had taken refuge. Saladin allowed Eschiva’s call for help to slip through his guards and reach the crusader camp. He was using her as bait to lure the crusaders into marching towards Tiberias.

Though his wife was trapped in Tiberias, Raymond insisted that a pitched battle with Saladin’s massive army would be suicidal for the crusaders. He believed that he could ransom his wife from Saladin. But Lusignan had no faith in Raymond. He thought that Raymond was advising inaction because he wanted to have him branded as a coward. 

The enmity between Raymond and Lusignan went back to 1185, when Baldwin IV had died. Raymond had supported the claim of Sibylla’s sister Isabella and Isabella's husband, Humphrey IV of Toron, to the throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. An open civil war between the factions led by two sisters was avoided by Isabella and her husband swearing allegiance to Lusignan.

The Master of Knight Templars and a few other nobles were urging Lusignan to ignore Raymond’s advice and move against Saladin. But the Knights Hospitaller was against provoking Saladin. Lusignan was persuaded by the advice of those who were favoring a direct attack.

On 3 July 1187, the crusader army marched towards Tiberias. A small contingent of knights was left behind to defend Jerusalem. When Saladin learned that the crusader army was on the move, he ordered his army to build a formation on the Galilean hills, from where they could dominate the battlefield. Saladin knew that access to water would play a role in the outcome of this battle. He ordered the wells in the region to be filled up. Only one source of water—the spring in the village of Hattin remained, but it was heavily guarded by Saladin’s soldiers.

It is unclear what Lusignan was thinking, or if he was thinking at all, as he marched his soldiers through the scorching desert landscape into the waterless kill zone that Saladin had established. Throughout the way, the natives demoralized the crusaders by beating drums, ululating, and singing. Hundreds were killed in the skirmishes between Saladin’s raiding parties and the flanks of the crusader army. If Lusignan had ordered a direct attack on the main body of Saladin’s forces, he might have had some chance of winning this battle. But his army was tired after the long march and, when it was late in the evening, he decided to pitch his camp in the waterless desert.

On the dawn of the coming day, the crusader army found that they were surrounded by the enemy. Saladin’s men lit dry scrub and the smoke went into the crusader camp blinding them. Around noon heavy bombardment with the arrows began—wave after wave of arrows descended into the crusader camp killing scores of soldiers and horses. Big gaps opened in the crusader army, and their formation was broken. Saladin’s army took advantage of the chaos in the crusader camp to lure several crusaders to their death. They would open gaps in their own formation. When the crusaders saw the gap in the enemy's side, they would rush into it hoping to escape from the kill zone, but they were encircled and slaughtered.

Lusignan made his last stand at the area in Hattin, where there was the geographical feature of a pair of hills. The two hills created the impression of horns rising from the ground. But Lusignan's position was overrun by Saladin’s men. Thousands of crusaders were killed, the rest were taken captive. Lusignan was captured along with the Grand Master of the Templars, and Reynald of Châtillon. Saladin killed the last two with his own hands. His victory over the crusader army was decisive. On the Horns of Hattin, he constructed a triumphal arch, the ruins of which exist till this day.

On 2 October 1187, Saladin’s soldiers captured Jerusalem after a small siege. Those inside the city decided to accept the peace terms that he was offering, and most of them were allowed to leave the city after the payment of a small ransom. Having fulfilled his pledge of conquering Jerusalem, Saladin took the title of Sultan of Egypt and Syria.

Democracies and Warfare

Democracy and warfare are the two sides of the same coin. The Western nations were the first to develop the militaristic and naval capacity for making conquests in all parts of the world because they were the first to develop a democratic system. In the last two thousand five hundred years some of the greatest wars have been fought by the Western democracies (republics)—and not by the Western aristocratic (statist) states. In fact, in a direct contest, the Western democracies have often prevailed over the Western aristocratic states.

Ancient Athens, a republic which held regular elections, was the biggest warmonger in Ancient Greece—they fought not only with the Greek city-states but also with the Persian Empire, and they even tried to conquer Egypt. The wars, civil wars, riots, mass killings, and pillages of the Roman Republic are legendary. The British Empire, which was quite democratic despite being a monarchy, fought wars all over the world between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries and conquered several colonies. Two of the bloodiest wars in history—the First and the Second World Wars—were fought in Europe, which was the most democratic part of the world. Hitler is generally blamed for the Second World War, but he was a democratically elected leader.

The democratic nations are seldom peaceful, compassionate, and reasonable. They are, in many instances, highly militaristic, aggressive, and ruthless—they are the ultimate experts at fighting pitched battles and conducting wholesale massacres.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The First Pilgrims to the Holy Land

The first royal pilgrim to the Holy Land was Empress Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. Her pilgrimage is dated to 326–28 AD. She visited Syria Palaestina, then the Roman name of the province of Judea, and Jerusalem. In his biographical work on Constantine, the fourth century historian Eusebius of Caesarea, noted that Helena was eighty when she returned from her pilgrimage. Helena was a Greek, born in the town of Drepanum, in Asia Minor. On her death in 330 AD, Constantine named her birthplace Helenopolis.

When Helena arrived in Jerusalem, the city was still recovering from the destruction that Emperor Titus had caused after his siege and capture of the city in 70 AD. There was construction activity going on in all parts of the city. Helena selected a site for excavation, and that led to the discovery of three different crosses. After performing a test, she discovered that one of the three crosses was the fabled True Cross.

Constantine had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built at the site where the True Cross was found. This Church, surprisingly, still stands, despite the fact that this region has been the world’s major battleground ever since—there were numerous wars between the Romans and the Persians, there were the long line of barbarian invasions, and there were the wars between the Arabs and the Byzantines. Then there was the revolution of the crusades and the counterrevolution of the Islamic forces, the Mongol rampage, and after that several other conflicts.

The notion that there was a religious benefit to be attained in certain places of the Levant was first popularized by St. Jerome in the last decades of the fourth century. He preached that praying while standing at the place where the feet of Christ had once stood was an act of piety. He said that those who were capable of undertaking such a journey, must go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He left Rome in 385 AD and spent the rest of his years in the Levant, in places like Antioch, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other holy sites in Galilee and Egypt.

St. Augustine, a contemporary of Saint Jerome, rejected the idea of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. To him all lands were just parcels of land. He refused to grant the privilege of holiness to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other sites in Palestine. He said that a pilgrimage to these places was not only futile but also dangerous. On this issue, the views of St. Jerome prevailed and the notion of praying at the Holy Land took hold of the imagination of the Christians in Europe and the Levant. Though St. Jerome had not preached this, it became accepted in Europe that by praying at the Holy Land a man could obtain God’s absolution for the sins that he had committed.

Empress Eudocia, wife of Emperor Theodosius II, popularized the idea of the Holy Land when she went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 438–439 AD. Her husband, the Emperor, had given her the title of “Augusta” in 423 AD. She was Greek by birth, born in Athens, and proud of her Greek heritage. On her way to Jerusalem, she stopped in Antioch and addressed a congregation of Christian Greeks in Hellenic style. She enthralled her audience by speaking the Homeric line: “Of your proud line and blood I claim to be.” She brought back several holy relics from Jerusalem.

In 443 AD, Eudocia left the palace permanently (possibly due to irreconcilable differences with her husband) and came to Jerusalem, where she lived till the end of her life. In this period, she gained immense religious influence. When she died, she was buried in the church that she had herself built, the Church of Saint Stephen. The modern St. Stephen's Basilica stands at that site.

Since the early saints and martyrs were from the East, the major Holy Places and holy relics of Christianity could be found in the East. But a journey to the East was difficult, costly, and dangerous. The journey took several months, at times more than a year. Only those people in Europe who were blessed with considerable resources, courage, faith, and a sense of adventure could be the pilgrims to the Holy Land. In the tenth century, the situation in the region stabilized, and this enabled several common Europeans to going East on a pilgrimage. Many Normans went on a pilgrimage, but they were hard people with a lot to atone for.

Themistocles: From Athenian General to Persian Governor

Themistocles was probably the most brilliant and shrewd leader that Athens had in the fifth century BC. He had a good understanding of not just the Greek society but also the Persian Empire. He fought the Persians, but he had a good relationship with them. 

When the Emperors of Persia, Darius I and his son Xerxes, attacked Greece, between 490 BC and 480 BC, the Athenians and Spartans were forced to ally to prevent the Persians from conquering their homeland. Themistocles was made the commander of the Greek allied navy in 480 BC. He used subterfuge to lure the Persian fleet into the Straits of Salamis, where they were defeated (Battle of Salamis).

Within a few years of the war against the Persians, there was a decline in Themistocles’s political fortunes. In 471 BC, the Athenian assembly, acting under Spartan pressure, ostracized him and exiled him to Argos. The Spartans despised Themistocles because he had ordered the re-fortification of Athens. When the Spartans implicated Themistocles in a treasonous plot against their general and tried to have him executed in Argos, he fled from Greece. 

For some time Themistocles lived at Pydna under the protection of King Alexander I of Macedon. Eventually he travelled to Asia Minor, which was the territory of the Persian Empire, whose navy he had defeated in 480 BC. The son of Xerxes, Artaxerxes I, was reigning when Themistocles arrived.

In a year, Themistocles learned the Persian language and wrote a letter to Emperor Artaxerxes I. According to the account given by Thucydides, in his letter, Themistocles introduced himself to Artaxerxes I with these words:

"I, Themistocles, am come to you, who did your house more harm than any of the Hellenes, when I was compelled to defend myself against your father's invasion—harm, however, far surpassed by the good that I did him during his retreat, which brought no danger for me but much for him.”

Artaxerxes I was pleased that such an illustrious and dangerous foe had come to his empire and was ready to serve him. He made Themistocles the governor of Magnesia, where Themistocles lived for the rest of his life. With the help of some friends, the wife and children of Themistocles managed to escape from Athens and join him in Magnesia. 

Themistocles died from natural causes in 459 BC, but several generations of his descendants continued to live under the protection of the Persian Emperor, and serve as the governor of Magnesia.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Hellenized Constantinople and Christianity

Roman Emperor Constantine was not the founder of Constantinople. The Megarians founded the city in 667 BC, and gave it the name Byzantium. The Greeks colonized the city from Megara in 657 BC. Byzantium was a Greek speaking city when Constantine built his imperial palace there in 324 AD, and renamed it Constantinople after himself. It subsequently became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire but it continued to be a Greek speaking city till it was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. The name “Byzantine Empire” was coined by historians after the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire. 

By building his imperial palace in Constantinople, Constantine gave the city the status of the Roman Empire’s second capital. Since he had converted to Christianity in 312 AD, Constantinople became the center of Christian thought. Several Greeks converted to Christianity and they started applying to their new religion what they were good at: Athenian style philosophical disputation. The orientals in Constantinople, and in Syria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, who were hellenized by their centuries of contact with the Greeks, joined the disputations. Eastern Christianity was divided by a series of antagonistic doctrines on matters of faith.  

The first major theological dispute to emerge in Eastern Roman Empire was on the interpretation of Trinity. This dispute was mainly between Origen of Alexandria, Athanasius, and Arius. To resolve the dispute, Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (325 AD), in which he upheld the doctrine of Trinity. Arius was branded as a heretic and sent to exile, but his doctrine survived among the Goths and Vandals till the eighth century.  

In the fifth century, Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, proposed the doctrine which overemphasized the humanity of Christ. The followers of the Antiochene school were already learning in that direction and Nestorius found support in several areas of the Levant. The Council of Ephesus in 431 AD denounced Nestorius as a heretic. He left Constantinople and established his Church in the Persian Empire (in Mesopotamia) where he was supported by the Persian King. The Nestorians gained influence in India, Turkestan, and China. The “one nature” doctrine of Monophysites took hold of a number of congregations in Egypt, Syria, and Anatolia. The Armenian Church sided with the Monophysites and ignored the Pope in Rome. 

By the middle of the fifth century, the doctrinal disputes in Eastern Orthodoxy had become irreconcilable. The Roman Emperor could not engineer a reconciliation. 

But despite the doctrinal disputes, Christianity kept spreading in the Eastern Roman Empire and even in the Persian Empire. Between the fourth and seventh centuries, thousands of monasteries came up in Constantinople, Egypt, Syria, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia. The teachings of Egyptian Saint Antony the Great (251 – 356 AD) on the standards of ascetic life was a major influence on these monasteries. He established the notion that the ascetics (monks) have to be celibate. Some resources have blamed the celibate ascetics for cutting into Roman demographics. But in his work of history, Edward Gibbon says that the celibate ascetics cannot be held responsible. 

Constantine’s decision to make Constantinople the second capital of the Roman Empire led to a transformation of Christianity into a theological and disputative religion.

Roman Paganism and Secular Wars

Ancient Rome and the Roman Empire were militaristic societies. But the Roman military campaigns were not motivated by religious considerations. The Roman pagan religion was inclusive, and tolerant of local Gods and cults. The Romans would often incorporate the local Gods into the pantheon of their pagan Gods. The number of Roman Gods kept increasing as they kept conquering lands in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Every new conquest brought new local Gods to the Romans. 

It was after the rise of the monotheistic faiths, which did not allow belief in any God except the one true God, that the wars which were supposedly for the defense of the faith became common. The wars of the monotheistic cultures were religious in name only. To a large extent these wars were grounded on geopolitical considerations—the ambition for capturing land, wealth, and slaves; for taking control of strategic trade routes and sea lanes; and for settling scores and attaining glory. 

There is not a single instance of a war being fought on purely religious considerations.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Democracy and Warfare

When a democratic nation goes to war, criticism overpowers conquest. The nation’s media and intellectuals criticize the war, they turn public opinion against the war, and force the politicians, diplomats, and military commanders to surrender the conquests that the soldiers have made in the battlefield.

Despite its superiority in military technology, America has lost every war that it fought in the twentieth century. There is not a single instance in which America has achieved the goals for which it went to war, and it usually fails to protect the people in the war zone who support the American forces. In Vietnam, Cambodia, the Middle East, and other places, the section of the population which supported the American side was annihilated after the American forces withdrew without achieving the goals for which they had arrived to fight the war. 

The moment America goes to war, powerful figures in its media, academia, and politics come out of the woodwork and start criticizing the war. Their criticism forces the politicians, diplomats, and military commanders to disengage from the war without achieving their geopolitical goals and without caring about the fate of their supporters in the war zone.

The failure to achieve war goals due to intense internal criticism is not just an American problem—this problem bedevils all democracies. The oldest democracy, Classical Athens, lost the war against Sparta when its war effort got derailed by internal criticism. 

The doctrine that Sparta was a bigger threat to Athens than Persia and hence it must be destroyed was first proposed by the great Athenian politician and general Themistocles in 479 BC, a year after the Battle of Salamis, in which the Athenian navy decisively defeated the Persian navy. But Themistocles could not convince the argumentative Athenians to go to war against Sparta, and in 472 BC, he was ostracized and banished from Athens. Cimon, the Athenian politician and general who came after Themistocles, wiped out the remaining Persian encampments in the Greek lands but he had no desire to wage war against Sparta. He tried to develop a friendly relationship with the Spartans.

The democratic revolutionary Ephialtes became the leader of Athens after Cimon was ostracized and banished from Athens for ten years beginning in 461 BC. The reforms of Ephialtes led to the power passing into the hands of the citizens—the Council of Five Hundred, the Assembly, and the popular law courts. But within a year of his reforms, Ephialtes was assassinated by the Athenian aristocrats. The second democratic revolutionary of this age, Pericles, took power after the democratic reforms of Ephialtes had failed. Pericles used his oratory and loud voice to dominate the Athenian assembly and make a case for war against Sparta. The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) began when Pericles was at the helm, but he died in 429 BC. The major battles of the Peloponnesian War were fought under Cleon. 

During the twenty-seven years of the Peloponnesian War, Athens was a divided society. There were noisy debates in the Athenian assembly on different aspects of the war. Several politicians and generals were ostracized and exiled. There were a number of democratic revolutions and aristocratic counterrevolutions. There were betrayals and assassinations. 

Being a democracy, Athens could not control the criticism of its war against Sparta. The Athenian politicians and generals could not develop a firm strategy for the war. They could not define a set of goals for which they were fighting. They often worked at cross-purposes, and tried to use the war for improving their own hold on Athenian politics. Alcibiades, the Athenian statesman, orator, and general, changed his political allegiance several times—sometimes he was with Sparta and sometimes with Athens. One reason for which Athens lost the war against Sparta in 404 BC is that its argumentative democratic system did not support its soldiers in the battlefield.

Democracies should not go to war unless they are ready to fight a war on two fronts—the external war against the enemy nation and an internal war against the intellectuals and politicians who would derail the war by criticizing it. If internal criticism is allowed to overpower the conquests that the soldiers make in the battlefield, then it is futile to go to war. In modern democratic societies, wars cannot be won without the support of the journalists, academics, intellectuals, and the politicians who control the public opinion and often enjoy the power to define the war goals.