Monday, August 30, 2021

The Gates of the Temple of Janus

In the Roman Republic, the gates of the Temple of Janus, the two-faced Roman God, symbolized wartime and peace. When Rome was at peace, the gates of the temple remained closed. When Rome was at war, the gates were opened. According to Livy, the Temple of Janus was built by King Numa Pompilius (reigned 715–673 BC). During the 500 year history of the Roman Republic, the gates of the Temple of Janus were closed only twice—this implies that the Romans were at war throughout the Republican age. In the second instance, the gates were closed by Augustus, after the death of Antony and Cleopatra.

The credit for killing the highest number of Roman soldiers in a single day belongs to Hannibal. In the Second Punic War, during the Battle of Cannae (2 August 216 BC), Hannibal’s forces trapped a Roman army of 86000 soldiers in a double envelopment tactic and hacked 70,000 Roman soldiers to death in just four to five hours. In the First Punic War, during the Battle of Cape Hermaeum (255 BC), around 100,000 Roman soldiers had been killed due to a sea storm that blew up suddenly and devastated a fleet of 390 Roman warships. 

Due to the high casualties that the Roman Republic suffered in wars, which came in quick succession, the Roman society was always plagued by the shortage of men who could serve as soldiers. The birth rate of Roman women was very high during the period of the Republic, and the Romans were able to replenish their population numbers within 10 years of a major war. If the birth rate of the Roman women had been lower, the Roman population might never have recovered. The feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir has criticized the Romans for treating their women as mere soldier producing factories. Simone was probably right. Having enough soldiers to fight the next war was the primary concern for Roman leadership.

The Romans replenished their numbers by granting citizenship rights to the local aristocratic families and in some cases to entire cities. Many conquered cities were given the status of socii, or allies, of Rome. The socii could be moved to a higher level of full citizenship, if they fully cooperated with Rome. The conquered areas were required to pay tribute to Rome but the universal obligation imposed on them was to put their army under Roman control. They had to contribute their young men to serve as soldiers for the Roman army. The Romans were ruthless in dealing with cities which failed to provide tribute and soldiers. They would raze such cities, enslaving their population, and even slaughtering them to the last man, woman, and child.

As the Romans continued to conquer new cities in Italy, the manpower pool from which they could draw their soldiers became bigger, enabling them to build larger armies with which they subdued the entire Italian peninsula. After that they turned their eyes towards other parts of Europe and towards Sicily and North Africa.

The Twenty-first Century Geopolitics: Feminists Vs. Patriarchies

The West is a civilization of feminists. The Chinese civilization is very patriarchal—the same is the case with the Islamic kingdoms in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. This implies that the contest for geopolitical power in the twenty-first century boils down to a battle between the feminist nations and the patriarchic nations. If the fate of the world is decided through negotiations, then the West has a chance to prevail, since feminists are generally good at negotiations. But if a full-fledged war breaks out, then I believe the Chinese and the Islamic nations might succeed in overthrowing the West because patriarchies are generally good at savage warfare.

Jarasandha: The Issue of Succession

The slaying of Jarasandha, King of Magadha, is described in the Shanti Parva section of the Mahabharata. Krishna, Bhima, and Arjuna travel to Magadha and challenge Jarasandha to a life and death kind of duel. 

Jarasandha accepted the challenge and opted to fight Bhima. For 26 days, they fought daily in the arena for two and a half to three hours, till both were fully exhausted.  Bhima tried every tactic of fighting but he could not kill Jarasandha. On the 27th day when they were fighting, Bhima looked at Krishna and asked, “What should I do?” Krishna picked up a leaf and tore it into two. Bhima instantly knew the way by which Jarasandha could be killed. He placed one leg on Jarasandha’s left leg and tore him into two.

Jara, the Jungle Goddess, had created Jarasandha by uniting the two halves of a divided-son born to King Brihadratha. There was only one way by which Jarasandha could be killed: the two halves of his body had to be ripped apart. After Jarasandha’s death, Krishna, Bhima, and Arjuna did not usurp his Kingdom of Magadha. They installed his son Sahadeva on the throne and then departed from the kingdom. In the Mahabharata war, Sahadeva fought on the side of Krishna and the Pandavas, the killers of his father.

The notion that the throne should go to the rightful heir has been part of the Hindu tradition since the Vedic period. When a king defeated another kingdom and killed its ruler, in most cases he allowed the next person in the legitimate line of succession to occupy the defeated kingdom’s throne.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Religion of Zeus

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” ~ Zeus didn’t say this. He didn’t care about the meek. When Zeus threw his thunderbolts, the meek would die with the evil. The thunderbolts of Zeus do not differentiate between the meek and the evil. The deceptions of Zeus are legendary. His sexual conquests, mostly through the use of deception, include: Hera, Aegina, Alcmene, Antiope, Callisto, Danae, Io, Nemesis, Europa, Ganymede, Leda, Metis, and other women of antiquity. There is no evidence that the exploits of Zeus made the world a better place. 

The religion of Ancient Athens was founded on the exploits of Zeus. The Athenians tried to emulate Zeus—they were rapacious, violent, and warlike. They imposed restrictions on their women. They enslaved the meek. They fought for the sake of fighting with no concern for making the world a better place. They needed to fight because they needed to prove to their Gods that they were strong and violent, fit to be the followers of Zeus. Every Athenian yearned for a warrior’s death. Like Achilles, they chose to die in battle and be forever remembered and honored. 

Though Christianity is part of the Western tradition, it is not founded on the philosophy of Zeus—it has a lot in common with the religious thought of Zoroastrians and Hindus. The idea that the meek will inherit the earth, which plays a critical role in Christianity, belongs to the Zoroastrian and Hindu (Vedic and pre-Vedic) traditions.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Women in Ancient Athens and the Persian Empire

In Ancient Greece, women were banned from participating in politics. They had no legal personhood and were assumed to be part of the oikos (household) headed by the male kyrios (master). The Greeks believed that if women were allowed to inherit property, men would become effeminate and the nation would fall. They did not allow their women to go out in public without a veil and unless they were escorted by a male relative. Aristotle has claimed that Sparta fell because the Spartan men had become effeminate after they allowed women to inherit property. 

Greek literature casts women as troublemakers—Hera and Aphrodite are portrayed as jealous goddesses who employ feminine wiles to mislead men.

Contrast the poor status of women in Ancient Athens with the economic, legal, and political power that women enjoyed in the Persian Empire. According to Herodotus, Empress Atossa, the wife of Persian Emperor Darius I, was the real force behind the invasion of Greece in 492 BC. Herodotus has also written Atossa was responsible for ensuring that Xerxes became the Emperor after the death of Darius I. He has talked about other powerful women in the Persian Empire—the wife of Xerxes, Amestris, was the most powerful person in the Persian court; Parysatis, the wife of Darius II, became a center of power in her time.

In the Persian Empire, women were free to step out of their house without wearing a veil and move around without being escorted by a male relative. They enjoyed the freedom to bathe in public, in lakes and rivers. In Persian cities there were outdoor swimming pools which were shared by men and women. When the Greeks used to come to the Persian Empire, they were often horrified by the sight of women moving around without veils and bathing in public. They used to take this freedom for women as a sign of Persian effeminacy and decadence.

In palace ceremonies, the Persian women played a prominent role. They attended the meetings and banquets in which foreign dignitaries had been invited. The Greeks had a hard time accepting the presence of women in their state-level meetings with the Persians, since in Greek culture only the prostitutes and courtesans attended the gatherings of political figures. The Greek dignitaries would often return to Greece with a low opinion of Persian culture, and they would spread canards about the moral character of women in the Persian royal family.

There are several records of Persian women excelling in hunting and warfare. The Greek and the Persian sources talk about Roxane, a relative of Emperor Artaxerxes II, who was a champion in archery and javelin. The Persian women routinely went on hunting. They were capable archers and horse riders. Greek chroniclers talk about the warlike nature of the Persian women. Ctesias mentions that in the time of Cyrus the Great, the Persian women stood in the streets and taunted the men who were trying to flee from the Battle of Medes.

There are records of Persian women buying, selling, and owning property. The Persian men were allowed to bequeath their property to their daughters and daughters-in-law. There are records of Persian women who ran their own businesses and became wealthy. They were allowed to pass on their fortune to the next generation or to anyone outside their family. In the time of Darius I, there was a Persian businesswomen called Irdabama. In her business, located in the city of Shiraz, she employed 480 laborers. Several seals, which record her business transactions, have been found.

Persian Women could rise to the position of satraps, the second highest position after the Persian Emperor. Artemisia I of Caria was the Queen of the ancient Greek city-state of Halicarnassus and of the nearby islands of Kos, Nisyros and Kalymnos (these were within the satrapy of the Persian Empire). In the movie 300: Rise of an Empire, actress Eva Green has played the role of Artemisia, depicted as a ruthless satrap who enjoyed great influence on Emperor Xerxes and commanded the Persian fleet during the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. It is true that Artemisia commanded a section of the Persian fleet.

Artemisia was devoted to Xerxes and fought for his side in the Battle of Salamis. Herodotus has praised her fighting and leadership skills. He has claimed that the Athenian warriors could not bear the thought of fighting a woman, so they placed a huge bounty on Artemisia’s head. They announced 10,000 drachmas reward for the Athenian who captured or killed her. Despite the threat to her life, she did not leave the battlefield.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Pericles: The Ruler Who Spoke Like Zeus

The Athenians called their leader Pericles, Zeus Pericles. He had a thundering voice. When he spoke at the Athenian Assembly (the Agora), the crowd had the feeling that Zeus was thundering from heaven. Pericles used to appear at the Athenian Assembly bearing the arms associated with Zeus. Before beginning his speech, he would make a show of praying to the Gods. He was the longest lasting leader of Athens—the period in which he led Athens, from 461 to 429 BC, is known as the Age of Pericles.

When the Athenian assembly was in session, the mob of voters would gather in the assembly and create a ruckus. Scuffles between the political factions was a common occurrence at the assembly—at times people would get injured or even killed. The noise at the Athenian assembly would be so great that unless a leader had a thundering voice he could not control the restive crowd and make himself heard. Cimon, the military general who was Pericles’s rival in Athenian politics for several years, is known to have complained that Pericles was favored by the Athenians merely because of his booming voice.

Which class of individuals is capable of speaking in a thundering voice? Obviously, the military generals who have the experience of screaming orders to troops in battles. A civilian from a humble background had no chance of winning the support of the Athenian crowd because his voice would not get heard. From the sixth century BC, when the Athenian democracy developed, to 322 BC, when the Macedonians conquered Athens and wiped out the democratic system, every leader elected by the Athenians was a loud-talking military general.

Athens was a democracy in name only. It was a militaristic society. A series of powerful military families dominated Attica and held political office in Athens.

The Janus Face of the Right and the Left

The conservatives (rightists) think that their civilization is not being given the respect and praise that it deserves. They want to see only the bright side of their civilization. They prefer to ignore the areas of darkness. The liberals (leftists) think that their civilization is being given too much respect and praise. They prefer to ignore the bright side of their civilization. They want to see only the areas of darkness.

Both sides are wrong in this debate. A study of both—the bright and the dark side is important to have a fair picture of the past.

Both sides are violent, inept, corrupt, and decadent. The conservatives destroy lives outside their country; the liberals destroy lives inside their country. The conservatives blame their woes on the outsiders (everyone who is not an original member of their culture or ethnic group is a barbarian and an invader); the liberals blame their woes on the insiders (everyone who is not a leftist or liberal is a counterrevolutionary, racist, and bourgeoise).

The conservatives and the liberals are the two faces of the Ancient Roman deity Janus. One side of the Janus face speaks falsehoods towards the right; the other side of the Janus face speaks falsehoods towards the left.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Greek Way of Sexualizing Military Victories

In 478 BC, the Greek city-states met on the island of Delos and formed the military alliance called Delian League, under the leadership of Athens. Between 469 or 466 BC, the Delian League besieged the cities of Sestos and Byzantium (modern Istanbul). Persian Emperor Xerxes did not order an immediate offensive action against the Greeks—he was engaged in suppressing revolts in other parts of his empire. He probably did not see the Delian League as a threat, since the Greeks in Anatolia were on the Persian side and were fending off the attacks of the Delian League.

Eventually the response came from the Persian side. Their army and navy gathered at the Eurymedon River, from where they planned to move through the coast of Asia Minor and drive the Delian League out. While the Persians were engaged in developing their battle plan, and were waiting for reinforcements to arrive from Cyprus, the Athenian general Cimon learned of their plans. He moved in with 200 triremes to preemptively attack the Persian force at Eurymedon. The Greeks smashed the Persian ships which were moored at the river’s bank, and then they landed on the bank and slaughtered a significant number of Persian troops.

The Battle of Eurymedon was a great victory for the Greeks and it was a humiliation for the Persian side. Soon after the battle, potters of Athens created the Eurymedon vase, currently preserved at the Museum of Hamburg. The arrogance and overconfidence of the Athenians is in full display in the vase which carries the motif of a bearded Greek, naked except his mantle, holding his turgid phallus in right hand and advancing towards a Persian archer who is bent forward. The vase carries an inscription in Ancient Greek which has been translated as: “I am Eurymedon, I stand bent forward.”

It is not known how many Eurymedon vases the Athenians created to boast that their victory over the Persians was a sexual conquest. Some of these vases might have reached Persia and come to the notice of the Persian elite.

In 463 BC, there was a revolt in Egypt, a Persian satrapy. The Athenians took the ambitious decision that the Delian League should intervene on the rebel side and wrest control of Egypt from the Persians. An Athenian fleet of 200 triremes sailed into Egypt. Initially the coalition of Egyptian rebels and Athenians won some victories. They killed the Persian general Achaemenes, and besieged the Persian garrison at Memphis, a town in lower Egypt. The siege of Memphis dragged on for three years. Artaxerxes I, then the Persian Emperor, dispatched reinforcements under a new general, Megabyzus.

The arrival of Megabyzus transformed the situation. The Athenians and the Egyptian rebels who were besieging Memphis were wiped out. Some Athenians escaped the Persian dragnet in Memphis but most were captured or killed in other parts of Egypt. The Persians wanted to avenge the defeat at the Battle of Eurymedon. They were merciless. The Greeks lost 50,000 men. It is possible that while attacking the Athenians, the Persians might have boasted, “This is Eurymedon in reverse”—alluding to the Eurymedon vase. There is no evidence that the Persians made their own vases to sexualize their Egyptian victory.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Europe’s Great Mistake: The Roman Empire

The Roman Republic was founded in 509 BC. It took the Romans about 300 years (by 218 BC) to consolidate their rule over just the Italian peninsula, and it took them another 350 years to reach the highest extent of their empire (under Emperor Trajan in 117 AD). Contrast the slow progress of Rome with the rapid expansion of other empires: The Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan and his descendants had amassed six times more territory than the Roman Empire in just 50 years. The Maurya Empire of India had become as large as the Roman Empire in just 5 years. The Spanish Empire became twice as large as the Roman Empire in just 30 years.

There is one important reason for the slow expansion of the Roman Empire. The Romans used to regard every tribe which lacked Greek and Roman traditions as barbarians. The Gauls, the Visigoths, the Goths, the Ostrogoths, the Avars, the Celts, the Saxons, the Burgundians, the Suebi, the Franks, the Alans, the Britons—all of them were barbarians, according to the Romans. It didn’t matter to the Romans that these tribals were not invaders from Asia, Africa, or South America—they were the original inhabitants of Europe. They were natives of Europe. 

Most non-Roman tribes in Europe did not want to be part of the Roman world because they never got any respect from the Romans. They fought the Romans for every inch of soil. With much of Europe pitted against them, the progress of the Roman Empire had to be slow. In the time of Emperor Augustus, the Romans tried to develop a policy of assimilating the barbarians by getting them to serve in the Roman military, but by then it was too late since most of Europe had already developed an anti-Roman ideology. 

The Colosseum, built by Emperors Vespasian and Titus in the first century AD, is a tourist attraction in Rome. Most of the gladiators who died in the Colosseum and other such arenas were the European barbarians who were captured by the Romans. In a single sporting season at the time of Emperor Trajan 10,000 gladiators were killed in just 123 days. No other culture in the world has turned the killing of humans into a spectator sport on the scale that the Romans did. Thousands of Roman citizens, including the intellectuals and the political elite, used to sit in the Colosseum (and other such stadiums) and watch gladiators being tortured and killed.

Try to imagine what the Western reaction would be if an edifice like the Colosseum had been built in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India, or China. They would have held this edifice as the proof of the vileness and the bloodthirstiness of the culture which built it. They would have written hundreds of books and articles condemning it. But the Colosseum is regarded as a supreme example of Western art, architecture, and culture. The gladiators are mythologized in movies and books as the symbols of Roman valor.

If the Western intellectuals can sell the Colosseum as an example of sophisticated culture, and the gladiators as an example of bravery and valor, then they can sell any nonsense to their own people and to the people in other cultures. The Western version of history is an abortion in the womb of the past.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Who Overthrows the Superpowers? Allies or Enemies

Most empires have been destroyed by their trusted allies and vassals, and not by their enemies. The Persian Empire was destroyed by its former vassal, the Kingdom of Macedonia. In the sixth century, the Macedonians were a minor tribe in Europe. The Persian Emperor Darius I made them the legitimate satrap of Macedonia. The Persians gave military training to the Macedonians and armed them, so that they could serve in the Persian army as mercenaries. In 178 years, the Macedonians transitioned from vassals of the Persian Empire to its conquerers—Alexander the Great became the ruler of the Persian Empire. 

The Western Roman Empire was conquered by its former vassals, the Visigoths (who emerged from the Gothic groups in the fourth century AD). The policy of using barbarians in the Roman army was introduced by Augustus. By the third century AD, the Roman army was very diverse—it had a large number of barbarian soldiers. In the fourth and fifth centuries AD, Goths played an important role in defending Rome against the Hun army. But in 410 AD, the Goths sacked Rome In 476 AD, the Goth King Odoacer captured the Roman imperial throne, bringing the Western Roman Empire to an end. 

The Byzantine Empire played an important role in the rise of Arab Islamic power in the Middle East and North Africa. They funded, armed, and trained the early Arab warriors because they wanted to use the Arabs against their enemy, the Second Persian Empire (the Sassanid Empire). But after conquering the Second Persian Empire, the Arabs turned their eyes towards the territories of the Byzantines. The Arab army first besieged Constantinople in 674–678 and then in 717–718. Both sieges failed but the Byzantine Empire’s reputation was shattered. 

The Byzantine Empire was destroyed by its two allies—the Crusaders and the Ottoman Empire. The Crusaders had arrived in the Middle East to strengthen the Byzantine Empire but they sacked Constantinople. The Ottoman Sultans began as allies of the Byzantines in the thirteenth century. The Byzantines helped the Ottomans in expanding their power in Anatolia in exchange for using Ottoman mercenaries in their army. But the Ottomans were soon nibbling at Byzantine territory. In the fifteenth century, the Ottomans conquered the last outpost of the Byzantines: Constantinople.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Myth of Western Military Superiority

Whenever the West faces a serious military challenge from a non-Western power, it is either defeated or is bogged down in an endless conflict. The idea of Western military superiority is a myth. The West is not a civilization of warriors. It is a civilization of marketers, advertisers, propagandists, publicists, fiction writers, and fake historians. Their civilization is built on their capacity for bragging, self-promotion, and selling propaganda. They love to project themselves as a military power, but they are not.

The history books written on the basis of the one-sided accounts of Herodotus, Thucydides, and other Greek chroniclers, create the impression that Classical Greece was a great military power in its time. This is not true. The Greeks were a bunch of sparsely populated city-states, which constantly squabbled with each other. Athens and Sparta fought for more than 150 years, but whenever they fought with non-Greek cultures, they lost. They were defeated by the Egyptians, Syracusans, the Persians, and were eventually conquered by the Macedonians.

Western chroniclers call Alexander the Great the world’s first great conqueror, but he did not conquer any territory that was not first conquered by Cyrus the Great and his two sons and successors: Cambyses II and Darius I. After Alexander’s death, a civil war broke out between his generals. The civil wars went on for five decades, after which three new states emerged, two of which were antithetical to Western culture. Instead of making the Persian Empire a part of the West, Alexander’s conquests had turned the Persian territory into a breeding ground for a new crop of anti-Western powers.

Rome is called a great military power, but from 509 BC (the founding of the Roman Republic) to 476 AD (the fall of the Western Roman Empire), the Romans could not quickly defeat any non-European power. Against a non-European adversary, the Romans used to get bogged down in an endless conflict. Rome’s first major war with a non-European power was with Carthage (the Punic Wars). These wars began in 246 BC and continued till 146 BC. Even after 146 BC, the Romans could not pacify Carthage and the fight dragged on till the time of Augustus.

The Romans could not stabilize the areas outside Italy. Their soldiers could not venture beyond the Danube. The barbarians on the other side of the Danube, told the Romans—you can come this far, but not an inch further. In Britain, the Romans could not expand beyond Hadrian's Wall. When the Romans led by Marcus Licinius Crassus, Roman General and Statesman, attacked the Parthians in 53 BC, they were decimated by a much smaller Parthian cavalry. Crassus and his son were killed by the Parthians along with most of the Roman army. 

The Romans got hold of the Iberian Peninsula not due to their own military might but because these lands were the territory of Carthage. Augustus annexed the Iberian peninsula in 19 BC by claiming that this land belonged to Rome since it was part of Carthaginian territory. But when he tried to expand Roman territory into the Middle East, he got bogged down in endless wars with the Second Persian Empire and other powers. 

When the Huns (the nomadic tribe from Central Asia) arrived in the fourth century AD, the Romans could not fight them. The Huns rampaged through Europe till the sixth century AD, and the Romans could do nothing to stop them. Eventually the Huns were stopped by the Goths. The Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) was weaker than the Western Roman Empire. The Huns and other barbarian tribes raided Roman lands every year. The Romans could not defend their territory. In the fifth century AD, the political elite of the Byzantine Empire built a wall around Constantinople to protect themselves from the barbarian raiders.

Rome is probably the most sacked city in history—it was sacked about a dozen times by its own generals. The outside groups which sacked Rome include: the Gauls, the Visigoths, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, the Normans, and the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V. In 711 AD, the Umayyad Caliphate conquered the Iberian Peninsula and by 759 AD, they had expanded their territory into Gaul. They held this territory till 1492 AD. If the Mongol campaigns of Genghis Khan and his grandson Hulagu Khan had not weakened the Islamic movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, then a major part of Europe would be under Islamic rule today.

In the eleventh century, the Western powers launched their crusade. They sent their army to the Middle East with the aim of saving the Byzantine Empire and liberating Jerusalem. But instead of saving the Byzantine Empire, the crusaders played a seminal role in destroying it. Instead of liberating Jerusalem, they destroyed its intellectual culture and ensured its complete domination by the Islamic forces. They were beaten by almost every power in the Middle East—the Zengids, the Abbasids, the Ottomans, the Seljuk Turks, and several other minor groups.

During the Age of Imperialism (16th century to 1945), the Western powers had some success in their attempts to win colonies. But the wars of imperialism were not conventional military wars. The imperialists arrived so suddenly, they appeared so different, that the locals in remote areas were psychologically emasculated. They could not fight to save their land, wealth, and lives from the invaders. It took a couple of centuries for a military style opposition to Western rule to develop in the colonies. When they were confronted with a militaristic opposition, the Western powers immediately fled to Europe. By 1950, imperialism was finished.

The First and the Second World Wars were European wars in which the Europeans and North Americans massacred millions of their own people. Even in these two wars, they fared badly against the non-Western powers. In the First World War, the Ottomans caused massive damage to the West and despite losing the war, they managed to create a new nation called Turkey in Anatolia. In the Second World War, the Japanese thrashed the Americans everywhere—had it not been for the American nukes, the Japanese would never have surrendered. 

After 1950, the Western powers have lost in every military confrontation with non-Western powers. The debacles in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Cuba, the never-ending standoff in the Korean Peninsula, the failed interventions in the Middle East, the futile wars in South America, the ineffective campaign against China, and the imbroglio in Afghanistan that has been going on since the 1970s are a clear sign that that the West is incapable of winning wars against a determined non-European power.

The Meteoric Fall of the Superpower

When you have reached the top, there is only one way you can go—downwards. It should come as no surprise that the world's only "superpower" has been going down since the 1950s. Where else could it go from its perch in the clouds? In the twenty-first century, this superpower has gathered a massive momentum as it hurtles towards the earth like a meteor dropping from the sky. In the next ten years, this superpower, ruled by a clique of naive, corrupt, and complacent plutocrats and technocrats, will hit the earth, shatter into pieces, and create a catastrophic geopolitical event which will cause considerable damage to peace and stability of the world. The fall of this superpower is irreversible since it has already passed the point of no-return. By the laws of physics and history, it must self-destruct by crashing into the ground.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Alexander And America

Alexander the Great never tried to be a world conqueror. He fought wars in two areas: the Balkans and the Persian Empire. He never took his army outside the Balkans and the borders of the Persian Empire. Much of his time in the Persian Empire was spent not in fighting wars but in suppressing rebellions against the Macedonian occupation. He became the King of Macedon in 336 BC, after the assassination of his father King Philip II, the military genius responsible for building a powerful 50,000-strong army which relied on an infantry of pikemen. Armed with 15- to 18-foot-long pikes (known as sarissas), these pikemen soldiers used to confront the enemy in a tight block or phalanx formation.

In 335 BC, Alexander began the Balkan campaign in which his pikemen army won decisive victories against the Greek hoplites. He immediately proved that he was capable of being a brutal warrior. When Thebes refused to surrender—he decimated the city, slaughtered most of the citizens, and spared only the temples. The destruction of Thebes was a warning to the Greeks that they could surrender or die. Most of the Balkans, including the two traditional belligerents Athens and Sparta, surrendered to Alexander. In 334 BC, the Macedonian army crossed the Hellespont and entered the territory of the Persian Empire. The Persian King was informed of the arrival of the Macedonian army but he failed to make preparations to repulse them.

The Persian Empire was in a troubled state at that time. In 338 BC, Artaxerxes III was poisoned, and the throne went to his son Artaxerxes IV. But in 336 BC, he too was murdered in a palace coup. A nobleman called Artashata acceded the throne under the royal name Darius III. Though Darius III was remotely related to the wider Achaemenid dynasty, he was not a descendent of Artaxerxes IV. A powerful faction of Persian nobles saw him as a usurper. Soon after he acquired the throne, revolts erupted in Babylon and Egypt. Before he could do anything to suppress these revolts, Alexander arrived with his Macedonian army.

The Persian army was inexperienced since it had not fought a war for twenty years. In contrast, the Macedonian army had been fighting continuously and was battle hardened. The first encounter between the Macedonians and the Persians was in May 334 BC, at the Battle of the Granicus River. The Persians fought bravely but they did not stand a chance against the Macedonian pikemen. After that the battle shifted to Anatolia. Alexander captured the cities of Sardis, Ephesus, Miletus, and Halicarnassus. He had control of most of Asia Minor by the end of 334 BC. In 333 BC, he captured the important cities of Celaenae and Gordion.

The Persians, under their general Memnon, launched a naval counteroffensive in 334 BC. They captured a number of the Aegean Islands. This counteroffensive was short-lived as Memnon suddenly died in 333 BC of illness. In November 333 BC, Darius gathered an army of 50,000 and attacked Alexander at Issus (Southern Anatolia). A large number of Greek mercenaries who were pained by the Macedonian conquest of their homeland had joined the Persian army. Alexander’s army numbered 40,000. This battle resulted in a decisive Macedonian victory.

The next targets for Alexander were the Persian cities of Tyre and Gaza, which had refused to surrender. He conquered both in 332 BC, with the help of the Persian navy, a faction of which had joined him. From Gaza, Alexander marched into the Persian colony of Egypt. The Egyptians hated the Persians. The Persian Satrap himself welcomed Alexander into Egypt and accepted Macedonian suzerainty in exchange of the continuance of his satrapy.

Meanwhile, in Mesopotamia, Darius had organized another army which included soldiers and cavalry from the far-flung areas of the Persian Empire. In 331 BC, Alexander set out from Egypt to confront Darius’s new army. The two armies met near the village of Gaugamela, east of the Tigris. Alexander’s army prevailed and Darius fled to the mountains with a few loyal troops. Now he was powerless to save Persia from the Macedonians. Alexander went to Babylon and proclaimed himself Great King of Persia. After that he captured the city of Susa where he found wealth greater than his imagination. He sent to Greece a sum more than six times the annual income of Athens.

Darius was trying to raise another army but in 330 BC he was captured and stabbed by Persian insurgents who regarded him as a usurper and were disgusted by his inability to stop Alexander. After Darius’s death, Alexander spent the next seven years, till he died in 323 BC, rushing from one end of the Persian Empire to another to curb rebellions. He tried to start a campaign on the Indian border in 327 BC. But this campaign failed. His troops were exhausted by the endless Persian wars and they refused to press into the territory of the Indian kings. Alexander returned to Susa in 324 BC, He lost most of his men in the harsh desert. On 10 or 11 June 323 BC, he died.

Alexander did not have any imperial ideology—except perhaps the notion that “might makes right,” or “the one who wins the war owns the land”. He had no plan to pacify the Persian Empire. He had no model of governance. He had no strategy for uniting Macedonia, Greece, and Persia. He won several wars but he could not gain control of the government and culture of the Persian Empire. Immediately after his death, a war broke out between his generals. Alexander’s three wives and his only son were quickly consumed in the war, which continued till 275 BC, when three Macedonian successor kingdoms emerged: the Antigonids in Macedon, the Ptolemies in Egypt, and the Seleucids.

The American way of war after 1950 closely mirrors Alexander’s way of war in the fourth century BC. Like Alexander’s Macedonian army, the Americans are good at winning the battles of the initial phase but they don’t know what to do with their early victories. They have no plans for pacifying and governing the country that they have won. They have no ideology other than “might makes right."

The French King and the Mongol Queen

When Guyuk Khan (the son of Genghis Khan’s eldest son Ögedei Khan) died on April 20, 1248, his Christian wife, Oghul Ghaimish became the regent of the Mongol territories that he used to control in the Levant. At that time, the Mongol Empire was at its height—they had proved that they were capable of defeating any foe in battle. The King of France Louis IX saw a military opportunity in the rise of a Christian Mongol Queen in the Levant. He felt that the Mongols under her leadership could be persuaded to join France in an alliance against the Islamic states.

In 1250, Louis IX’s envoy to Oghul Ghaimish, a Dominican Monk named Andrew of Longiumeau, arrived in her court in Western China, along the Emil River. He had arrived to negotiate a Mongol-European alliance in the Levant, but the Mongols had the impression that he had arrived on the orders of his King to surrender Christian Europe to her. Oghul Ghaimish knew about the bad performance of the Western crusaders and the Byzantines in the Levant, and she saw no value in entering into a military alliance with them. Her response to Louis IX was rude and undiplomatic. 

She sent him a list of rulers that she claimed that she had executed because they failed to pay tribute to her, and she commanded the French King to start sending her tribute. She wrote: “send us so much of your gold and of your silver each year, if you hold it back from us, we shall do what we did to those whom we named before.” When Louis IX saw her response, he simply said, “I feel sorry that I sent a mission to her court.” Oghul Ghaimish was unable to keep the Mongol throne in her branch of the family, and in 1251 Mongke Khan became the Great Khan.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Cyrus, Christianity, Cicero, and Caesar

When the European nations gained mastery over a significant part of the world, between the fifteenth and the twentieth centuries (the Age of Imperialism), they were inspired by the four Cs: Cyrus, Christianity, Cicero, and Caesar. The imperialists of Europe were barbarian warriors, preachers, empire builders, and ideologues. 

In the sixth century BC, Cyrus the Great founded the First Persian Empire (the Achaemenid Empire), which at its peak spanned 5.5 million square kilometers, stretching from the Balkans and Eastern Europe in the west to the Indus Valley in the east. The geographical expanse of Cyrus the Great’s empire became an inspiration for the European conquerors and adventurers who came after the fall of the First Persian Empire. 

Alexander the Great tried to conquer all the lands that Cyrus had conquered. The Emperors of the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) were inspired by the geographical expanse and the power of the First Persian Empire.

Cyrus played an important role in the founding of Christianity. He allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and build their Second Temple. According to the Biblical book of Ezra, the construction of the Second Temple began in 537 BC. Around 500 years after Cyrus, Jerusalem became the birthplace of Christianity. After the eleventh century, the European nations became united under the banner of Christian religion.

Caesar was the political icon of imperialism; Cicero was the intellectual icon. The leaders of the imperialist powers aspired to be a warrior king like Caesar; they were motivated by the philosophy of Cicero. During the late Middle Ages and the early Modern Age, Cicero was Europe’s most powerful philosopher.

The Three Gods of 330 BC

In 330 BC (the year of the fall of the First Persian Empire), 65 percent of humanity was worshipping three Gods: Vishnu, Ahura Mazdā, and Zeus. Here’s my analysis:

In 330 BC, the population of the Persian Empire (which included the Middle East, and parts of North Africa and Central Asia) was 50 million. The population of the Indian subcontinent (then dominated by the Nanda and the Maurya Empires) was 100 million. The population of those parts of Europe which were influenced by the Greeks, Macedonians, and the Persians was 10 million. The human population on earth in 330 BC was 250 million.

Thus, in 330 BC, 65 percent of humanity lived in the Persian Empire (Ahura Mazdā was the chief deity), the Indian Subcontinent (Vishnu was the chief deity), and the Greek, Macedonian, and Persian influenced parts of Europe (Zeus was the chief deity).

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

What Constitutes the Western Civilization?

The European nations did not identify as Western Civilization when they were waxing, between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, when they started waning, they formed an association called Western Civilization. Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (Volume 1 and 2), published in 1918 and 1922, has played a major role in propagating the ideal of Western Civilization, but his white and Christian supremacist conception of the West would not be acceptable to the Europeans and North Americans of the post-1950 period, when the term “Western Civilization” became popular.

What is the criteria for being part of Western Civilization? Is race the criteria? Is it religion—most Europeans and North Americans in the twenty-first century are atheist? Is it language—Europe is a Tower of Babel? Is it ideology—the Europeans are divided between the right and the left? Is it geography? Is Russia a part of Western Civilization? What about the people of European origin who have settled in non-European countries—are they included? What about Turkey, which exists on the land that was originally Anatolia, the epicenter of Ancient Greek, Ionian, and the Byzantine cultures? By using various criteria, different maps of what might be Western Civilization can be created.

The true believers in Western Civilization cannot define it. They cannot even define what they mean by Western culture: is it religious or atheistic? Is it Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox? Are non-Christian religions included? Is it woke and liberal or traditionalist and conservative? Is it nihilistic or puritan? Are Nazism, Fascism, and Communism part of Western culture? Whenever the true believers try to define Western Civilization, they decimate it—because they get mired in historical, linguistic, religious, and racial controversies. The true believers treat Western Civilization as a nebulous ideal which is real and unreal at the same time.

The term “Western Civilization'' was first proposed by the French philosophers in the Age of Enlightenment. These French philosophers were atheists—they didn’t want to say that theirs was a “Christian Civilization,” and so they used the secular word “Western.” They theorized that human progress must have a single civilization as its goal—to this civilization they gave the name Western Civilization. Western Civilization that they envisioned consisted of countries in Western Europe and North America. Rest of the world, they posited, was populated with barbarians who had to be subdued and forced to accept Western culture.

In the 20th century,  the Europeans fought two great wars—the First and the Second World Wars—in which they slaughtered millions of their own people and reduced large parts of Europe to rubble. It is wrong to see these two wars as world wars—these were first and foremost European wars. These wars were the climax of the political and cultural disputes that had been raging in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the bloodbath of these two wars, it was impossible for the European nations to conceive of themselves as a part of Western civilization.

The Mongol Khans and the Romance of Alexander

The Romance of Alexander is an account of the adventures of Alexander the Great. It is attributed to Callisthenes, Alexander’s court historian. The historical Callisthenes died in 327 BC, four years before Alexander, so he could not have written the chapters on the final four years of Alexander’s life. The book’s unnamed author is called Pseudo-Callisthenes.

Genghis Khan and Alexander were separated by 1500 years, but the Romance of Alexander was the first Western book to be translated into Mongolian. In the book’s Mongolian version, when Alexander becomes a great conqueror, he says: “I have become Great Khan. On this very earth there has not been born a Khan who has enjoyed life as I.” The Mongolian version of the book ends with these lines: “It is over, is ended, ended!” 

Genghis Khan’s biography, The Secret History, contains several references to Alexander. According to the book, in Afghanistan Alexander killed a unicorn, which is a sacred creature. Due to the curse of killing a sacred unicorn, he soon died. Marco Polo, who worked in the Chinese court of Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan, has claimed that Alexander’s horse Bucephalus bred with a unicorn to produce a new breed of horse with a mark on its forehead.

According to some Mongol chroniclers, Monge Khan, Genghis Khan's grandson who became the Great Khan in 1251, used to examine the Mongolian version of the Romance of Alexander to discover insights for administering his Mongol empire.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Mongol Khan’s Letter to the Pope

The Mongols followed the policy of killing any religious leader who claimed an authority higher than the Great Khan. Genghis Khan had Teb Tengeri, the preacher of Mongolian religion of Sky God, killed. When Hulagu Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson, captured Baghdad in 1258, he killed the Caliph of Baghdad.

The Mongols tried to summon the Pope to their court for observing his attitude towards the Great Khan. If the Pope had accepted their invitation, they might have killed him.

On March 13, 1245, Pope Innocent IV wrote a letter called “cum non solum” to the Great Khan, demanding that the Mongols should desist from attacking Christians. The Pope inquired about the future plans of the Mongol Empire, and expressed the hope that there would be peace between the Mongols and the Christians. He was probably unaware that the word “peace” was a synonym for “subjugation” in the Mongol language.

A papal delegation, led by Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (also known as John of Plano Carpini), made a perilous journey of more than three thousand miles and brought the Pope’s letter to Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire, in July 1246. After a month of waiting, they had an audience with Güyük Khan, then the Great Khan (he was the son of Genghis Khan’s eldest son Ögedei Khan).

In November 1246, the papal delegation was allowed to leave Karakorum with a response in Mongol, Latin, and Arabic from the Great Khan. Towards the end of 1247, they found the Pope in Lyon and delivered to him their report and the Great Khan's letter.

Güyük Khan’s imperiously worded letter to the Pope begins with a preamble, which is translated as: “We, by the power of the eternal heaven, Khan of the great Ulus, Our command.” The letter declares that the office of the Great Khan is the scourge of God and it makes the following demand from the Pope:

"You must say with a sincere heart: "We will be your subjects; we will give you our strength". You must in person come with your kings, all together, without exception, to render us service and pay us homage. Only then will we acknowledge your submission. And if you do not follow the order of God, and go against our orders, we will know you as our enemy.”

Just as the Mongols did not tolerate any rival monarch, they did not tolerate any rival religious leader. Genghis Khan and the Khans who followed him were the God’s true representatives on earth. To defy the Great Khan was to disobey God.

Attila the Hun: The Lord of Water

The Huns believed that land on earth was infinite and as they kept conquering, there would always remain land that was unconquered. They thought that real power comes from conquering the resource that was finite: water. Attila proclaimed that he was the ruler of the Danube and all other water bodies. He declared that he owned every treasure that was contained in the seven seas. The word “Attila” means father of the sea—this word is related to the Turkish word “talay” and the Mongolian word “dalai” which mean sea. Attila gave his favorite son, the name Tengis, which means ocean in Turkic and Mongolian. Attila was the first leader of a steppe nomadic tribe to develop the notion that he was destined to rule the world.

Monday, August 16, 2021

A Comparison Between America’s and the Soviet Union’s Foreign Policy

In matters of foreign policy, the Soviet Union never compromised on its communist ideology. They never entered into an alliance with rightist and religious groups. In Syria, they allied with Hafez al-Assad’s socialist Ba'ath Party; in Iraq, with Saddam Hussain, a secular socialist; in Vietnam, with Ho Chi Minh’s communist party; in India, with the socialist Congress and the communist parties; in Cuba, with Castro’s communist party; in Korea, with Kim Il-sung’s WPK; in Britain, with the Labor Party.

When the pro-American Iranian government led by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in the 1978 revolution, the American think tanks feared that the new theocratic regime in Iran would join the Soviet camp. That didn’t happen. The Soviets refused to accept the Iranian theocrats as their allies. In fact, communism in Iran was wiped out after the theocrats took over. The pro-Soviet Tudeh Party of Iran used to flourish under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In 1982, the Tudeh Party was banned in Iran. In 1988, several Iranian communists were executed.

Unlike the Soviet Union, the American political establishment has no ideological, moral, and political principles when it comes to foreign allies. They will join hands with any regime or movement—religious fundamentalists, totalitarians, fascists, communists—to achieve their short term political agenda.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s government trained and armed the Afghan insurgents for defeating the Soviet Union. It didn’t matter to the Americans that culturally and politically America had nothing in common with the Afghans. They didn’t consider the possibility that in the future these insurgents might become a threat to American geopolitical interests. They didn’t consider the fact that the Christian movements and the Islamic movements have been battling each other since the eleventh century.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Intellectuals, Tyrants, and Warlords of Rome

When Cicero accused Mark Antony and Octavian Caesar of destroying Roman freedoms, Octavian was outraged. In 43 BC, Octavian had Cicero executed. To remind the Romans of the exact nature of the crime that Cicero had committed, he had Cicero’s hands chopped off and nailed to the Senate door, so that the senators and the masses could see the fate of the hands that had dared to pen a diatribe against Antony.

Octavian was trying to portray himself as a defender of Antony—that is why he claimed that he had Cicero executed for the crime of tarnishing Antony’s reputation and not his own. The execution of Cicero and other outspoken Roman intellectuals can be seen as the political fallout of the divide that had developed between the intellectuals and the politicians of the Roman Republic. This divide was one of the causes of the fall of the Roman Republic.

In 44 BC, Octavian, Antony, and Marcus Lepidus had formed a Second Triumvirate to defeat the army led by the assassins of Caesar. This Triumvirate had a lifespan of five years. In 37 BC, under the treaty of Tarentum, the Triumvirate was extended by another five years. But due to the competing ambitions of the three members, the Triumvirate was torn apart in 36 BC, when Lepidus was stripped of his powers and exiled.

Octavian and Antony became bitter enemies. At the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavian defeated the combined military of Antony and Cleopatra. Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Octavian became the first Roman Emperor and he turned Rome into an Empire.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Destruction Precedes Creation

To create a civilization a civilization has to be destroyed—this is the rule of history. The great civilization builders of history were first and foremost merciless destroyers and killers. The act of destruction precedes the act of creation.

The Vulnerability of Modern Civilization

An army of tribals, motivated by faith, led by a medieval political structure, armed with low-tech weapons, and making use of medieval nomadic strategy of warfare, has forced the very high-tech, well trained, and disciplined armies of two superpowers—the USSR and the USA—to withdraw from their country. This shows the vulnerability of modern civilization.

Neither capitalism nor communism can assure victory. Communism creates a corrupt and criminal ruling class; capitalism creates a corrupt and complacent (woke) ruling class. Both ideologies are capable of creating their own Armageddon.

In the last 400 years, the West has played a leading role in history. But 400 years is a small chapter in history. A lot has happened before the West became powerful and a lot will happen in the future. The world has entered a post-Western phase and we don’t know the problems that lie ahead of us and we don’t know what skills we will need to prosper in the future.

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Triumvirate: the USA, Western Europe, and China

The USA, Western Europe, and China are not rival civilizations. They are one. Despite their cultural, linguistic, economic, and political differences, they are a monolith—they are united in a single, global civilization which is determined to maintain its hegemony in all parts of the globe. Their world order is a triumvirate. If one part of the triumvirate collapses, it will trigger a chain reaction that will ensure the devastation of the other two.

History is repeating itself, and it has brought the USA, Western Europe, and China in the situation that is analogous to the triumvirate which acquired power during the final years of the Roman Republic: Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar. When Crassus died while fighting the nomadic warrior tribe of Parthians, the triumvirate was finished, and a civil war between Pompey and Caesar was immediately triggered. The troops loyal to Caesar killed Pompey in the civil war, but subsequently Caesar was assassinated by a group of Roman senators who were jealous of his power.

The USA, Western Europe, and China do not fear each other. They need each other to dominate the world. What they fear is the rise of a fourth force, an entity like the Parthians, which does not play by their rules, which is not in awe of the power of the triumvirate, and which might appear suddenly, draw any one of them into a decisive battle, and wipe out the present world order.

Alexander’s Mass Wedding in Persia

After conquering the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great conducted a mass wedding in the Persian city of Susa in 324 BC. The purpose of the mass wedding was to mingle the Macedonian and Persian bloodlines and unite the two cultures.

Eighty of Alexander's generals took Persian brides. Alexander himself took a Persian bride—a lady called Stateira (also known as Barsine), the eldest daughter of Darius III and his wife, also named Stateira. In 327 BC, Alexander had married Roxana, the daughter of Oxyartes, Chief of Bactria. Persian law allowed men to have multiple wives. In the same ceremony, Alexander took a third wife, Stateira’s cousin Parysatis, the daughter of Darius’s predecessor Artaxerxes III. The younger sister of Stateira (Darius’s second daughter) was given by Alexander to his close friend and favorite general, Hephaestion.

By marrying the daughters of Darius III and Artaxerxes III, Alexander was identifying himself with the Persian royal family and securing his position in Persia. He could now claim to be the son and the son-in-law of both Persian emperors.

Alexander’s mass wedding ended in mass divorce—clearly these marriages were not a match made in heaven. After his death in 323 BC, his generals, except Hephaestion, who died before Alexander, and Seleucus, divorced their Persian wives. Alexander’s three wives suffered a gruesome fate. Roxana was pregnant when Alexander died. Since she was expected to produce a legitimate heir to Alexander, she was protected by the Macedonian generals. Stateira and Parysatis were murdered in 323 BC on her command. 

A boy, Alexander Aegus, was born to Roxana in 323 BC. But she lost the power struggle. She could not organize Alexander Aegus’s accession to the throne of the empire that Alexander had conquered. She and the 14-year-old Aegus were poisoned by Alexander’s generals in 309 BC.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, and British Nationalism

British nationalism became the driving force of British politics and culture during the reign of the Protestant monarch, Elizabeth I. Her rivalry with Catholic Spain, and other Catholic powers of Europe, including the Papacy, made the masses in her island nation realize, probably for the first time, that they were a distinct people, that they were not just Christians, that they were British Christians, and that the Catholics of mainland Europe were their enemies.

When the British united to defend their island nation against the invasion of the Catholic powers, they developed a sense of their unique history and culture. When England defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, British nationalism came of age. This nationalistic spirit had consequences which went far beyond the war with Catholic Europe. Nationalism would eventually inspire the British to orchestrate the Industrial Revolution, build a Navy that would rule the sea, and conquer the world’s biggest imperialist empire which would climax with Pax Britannica.

Shakespeare has written about people from all over the world—Cleopatra of Egypt, Caesar and Antony of Rome, Hamlet of Denmark, and Othello, the Moorish general of Venice. In 1595, when he wrote Richard II, he was probably influenced by the spirit of nationalism that was flowing through England after the success of the British Navy against the Spanish Armada. This play has his most famous nationalistic lines, spoken by the character John of Gaunt:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, 
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, 
This other Eden, demi-Paradise, 
This fortress built by Nature for herself 
Against infection and the hand of war, 
This happy breed of men, this little world, 
This precious stone set in the silver sea, 
Which serves it in the office of a wall 
Or as a moat defensive to a house, 
Against the envy of less happier lands—
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

Such intense nationalist sentiment was unknown in British literature before the reign of Elizabeth I. A century earlier Thomas More had written the book called Utopia, but he did not present Britain as the utopian paradise. More’s utopia is located on an imaginary island.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

One City, Four Names: Byzantium, Constantinople, Konstantiniyye, Istanbul

Some cities have a longer lifespan than civilizations. Consider the city of Byzantium, which was founded in 667 BC by Greeks from Megara. 

Byzantium was sacked by the Persians in 626 BC. In 478 BC, the Greeks from Sparta rebuilt Byzantium. Between 324 AD and 330 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great conducted a large-scale reconstruction in Byzantium. He renamed the city Constantinople. In 1453, the Ottomans captured the city and radically transformed its culture from Orthodox Greek to Islamic. They renamed it Konstantiniyye. In 1930, the rulers of the Turkish Republic renamed the city Istanbul.

In its history of over 2600 years, the city of Byzantium was ruled by the Pagan Greeks, Zoroastrian Persians, Pagan Romans, Orthodox Christians, and Islamic Turks, and it was renamed thrice.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Machiavelli: On Isabella and Ferdinand

During the cooperative reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the foundation of Spain’s global Empire was established. The two spectacular successes of their reign was the liberation of Southern Spain from Islamic occupation and the discovery of the American continent by Christopher Columbus. Machiavelli was an admirer of Ferdinand. In his book The Prince, he explains the popularity of Ferdinand in these words: “Nothing wins a ruler respect like great military victories and a display of remarkable personal qualities. One example in our own times is Ferdinand of Aragon, the present King of Spain…” Machiavelli was impressed by the Spanish campaign in Granada, undertaken in 1492 by Isabella and Ferdinand. He writes in The Prince:

“We have in our time Ferdinand of Aragon, the present King of Spain. He can almost be called a new prince, because he has risen, by fame and glory, from being an insignificant king to be the foremost king in Christendom; and if you will consider his deeds you will find them all great and some of them extraordinary. In the beginning of his reign he attacked Granada, and this enterprise was the foundation of his dominions. He did this quietly at first and without any fear of hindrance, for he held the minds of the barons of Castile occupied in thinking of the war and not anticipating any innovations; thus they did not perceive that by these means he was acquiring power and authority over them. He was able with the money of the Church and of the people to sustain his armies, and by that long war to lay the foundation for the military skill which has since distinguished him. Further, always using religion as a plea, so as to undertake greater schemes, he devoted himself with pious cruelty to driving out and clearing his kingdom of the Moors; nor could there be a more admirable example, nor one more rare…”

There is no important matter on which Isabella and Ferdinand had a difference of opinion. The motto of their prenuptial agreement was: “Tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando.” (They amount to the same; Isabel is the same as Ferdinand.) Faith in God was important for Isabella and Ferdinand. They believed in the adage: “Those monarchs who do not fear God fear their subjects.”

The Vodka-Hashish Dividing Line

In his lecture, the Era of the Crusades, historian Kenneth Harl makes this interesting comment: “Some scholars have argued that Central Asian steppe nomads were almost destined to convert to Islam because of their religious tradition and their location relative to the “vodka-hashish” dividing line. In the forest zones of Russia, where vodka was consumed, Christianity prevailed. The steppe nomads who used hashish inclined to Islam.”

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Sultans Who Occupied Delhi's Imperial Throne

In 1192, Muhammad Ghuri defeated Prithviraj Chauhan in the Second Battle of Tarain. With this victory, a large part of North India came under Ghuri’s control. He entrusted the running of his North Indian kingdom to his Mamluk general Qutb ud-Din Aybak. When Ghuri died in 1206,  Aybak became an independent sultan. Aybak was followed by his son-in-law Iltutmish who ruled from 1210 to 1236. After Iltutmish’s death in 1236, his daughter Radiyya Begum became the ruler. Radiyya's regime was overthrown in a coup. After her, a series of weak sultans followed.  In 1296, power went to the Khilji dynasty, in 1320 to the Tughlaq dynasty, in 1414 to the Sayyid dynasty, and in 1451 to the Lodi dynasty. The Mughal dynasty acquired power in 1526.

The Western Ideologues Can’t Lose in Debates

“An ideologue—one who thinks ideologically—can't lose. He can't lose because his answer, his interpretation and his attitude have been determined in advance of the particular experience or observation. They are derived from the ideology, and are not subject to the facts. There is no possible argument, observation or experiment that could disprove a firm ideological belief for the very simple reason that an ideologue will not accept any argument, observation or experiment as constituting disproof.” ~ James Burnham in Suicide of the West. Burnham is right. The Western ideologues—communists, capitalists, liberals, and libertarians—can’t lose in debates. Their ideology is shock-proof because it has nothing to do with experience and observation.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Opening Lines of the Alexiad

Anna Komnene, the author of the work of Byzantine history, The Alexiad, was the leader of a failed coup against her brother John II Komnenos, the heir to the throne of the Byzantine Empire. She was defeated in the power struggle and was exiled for the rest of her life to a monastery on her brother’s orders. She wrote The Alexiad while she was imprisoned in the monastery. 

The opening lines of her book are memorable. Here’s a translation by E A Dawes:

“TIME in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things, and drowns them in the depths of obscurity, no matter if they be quite unworthy of mention, or most noteworthy and important, and thus, as the tragedian says, “he brings from the darkness all things to the birth, and all things born envelops in the night.”

“But the tale of history forms a very strong bulwark against the stream of time, and to some extent checks its irresistible flow, and, of all things done in it, as many as history has taken over, it secures and binds together, and does not allow them to slip away into the abyss of oblivion.

“Now, I recognized this fact. I, Anna, the daughter of two royal personages, Alexius and Irene, born and bred in the purple. I was not ignorant of letters, for I carried my study of Greek to the highest pitch, and was also not unpractised in rhetoric; I perused the works of Aristotle and the dialogues of Plato carefully, and enriched my mind by the “quaternion” of learning. (I must let this out and it is not bragging to state what nature and my zeal for learning have given me, and the gifts which God apportioned to me at birth and time has contributed).

“However, to resume—I intend in this writing of mine to recount the deeds done by my father for they should certainly not be lost in silence, or swept away, as it were, on the current of time into the sea of forgetfulness, and I shall recount not only his achievements as Emperor, but also the services he rendered to various Emperors before he himself received the sceptre.”

Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Two Mistakes of the Byzantines

In their struggle for maintaining their supremacy in the Middle Eastern region, the Emperors of the Byzantine Empire made two mistakes:

1. They overestimated the Europeans: 

In the last decade of the eleventh century, when Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos requested the Pope for military assistance, he was expecting to receive 2000 to 5000 European mercenaries who would join his army and fight the Seljuk Turks in the Middle East. What he got was a crusade in which between 50,000 to 100,000 people marched into the Middle East to wage a Holy War for liberating Jerusalem. 

The crusaders were divided into factions led by preachers and warlords. They had no strategy, no knowledge of the actual conditions in the Middle East, and no unity. Many were pilgrims with no military training—they intended to disarm and defeat the enemy with their piety. Some leaders of the crusaders were looking for opportunities to found their own empires in the region. They had no intention of doing anything to help the Byzantines. In 1204, the crusaders sacked Constantinople—this was a debacle from which the Byzantine Empire never recovered. 

The performance of the crusaders in the Middle East was so bad that many tribes of nomadic fighters (especially the Turks) decided to move into the fold of Islam. The Turks were led to believe that Islam, not Christianity, was the religion of victory and culture. 

2. They underestimated the Seljuk Turks: 

The Byzantines thought that they could deal with the Seljuk Turks in the same way that they had been dealing with other nomadic groups—that is, they could use bribes and the threat of use of military force to convert them. In the past, the Byzantines had been successful in converting the Bulgars and the Magyars to Orthodox Christianity. They failed to notice, until it was too late, that the Seljuk Turks were unlike any nomadic group that they had encountered before. 

When the Seljuk Turks arrived in the Middle East, they were already a people with strong ethnic and religious identity. They had woven their Turkish identity and language into folk Islam. The Seljuk Turks were powerful fighters. Their nomadic lifestyle had prepared them for a life of warfare. 

In 1055, they started raiding Anatolia. In 1071, Byzantine Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes led an army near the town of Manzikert, where he encountered the Turkish army led by Alp Arslan, the nephew of Tughril Beg, the founder of the Seljuk Empire. In the battle that followed, Romanos IV was defeated and the Turks gained control of Anatolia. In the wake of Turkish victory millions of Turks moved into Anatolia and transformed the ethnicity of this region. The Greek and Orthodox culture of Anatolia was finished by the thirteenth century. 

The 1176 Battle of Myriocephalon, in which Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos was defeated, was the last Byzantine attempt to expel the Seljuk Turks from the Middle East.

The Psychological Victories of the Conquistadors

Most of the early encounters between the European imperialist powers and the local powers were not conventional military confrontations in which two sides fight pitched battles and try to kill a maximum number of other side’s soldiers. The locals in these encounters were psychologically disarmed and were not mentally inclined to launch a full scale war on the Europeans.

The Europeans knew that they had arrived to conquer and plunder, but the locals were clueless about how to deal with the outsiders who had suddenly appeared on their land. In the initial period of the encounters, the locals would be in awe of the strange customs, language, food habits, dresses, weapons, and ways of fighting of the outsiders. Thus, the Europeans had a distinct psychological advantage. 

In some contests, 50 to 200 European soldiers, dressed in military costumes and riding horses, could psychologically disarm thousands of locals—in a conventional military battle this sort of feat would be impossible. But in South America, Hernán Cortés and his tiny band of Conquistadors could conquer large territories without any military style opposition from the other side.

Cortés was not a military commander. He never won a pitched military battle in South America. In his lifetime, he never fought or led an army in a pitched military battle against a powerful enemy. He won in South America due to psychological reasons. Cortés would not be effective in any military battle where the other side was not psychologically emasculated and was determined to fight back.

In Europe and the Middle East kind of conflicts, a man like Cortés would be a miserable failure. He would not have survived for an hour against Hannibal, Bohemond, Genghis Khan, or Saladin. Cortés was good at waging a psychological war against primitive and isolated communities. But he was no military commander.

Friday, August 6, 2021

The End of Western History

The world that is going to pieces in the twenty-first century is a world that has been shaped by the Western ideological, geopolitical, and technological successes in the last five hundred years. But the Western culture started declining in the 1980s. In the twenty-first century, the pace of decline has accelerated. The decline of the West is irreversible, because the Westerners have already played their world-historical role. For the West, history has ended. The decline of the West is necessary for creating space for the rise of new civilizations which will make new efforts for taking mankind into a new direction.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Yazdegerd III: The Last Persian Shah

The Persians believed that they were blessed by Ahura Mazdā, the supreme uncreated and benevolent deity of wisdom in Zoroastrianism, and that their religion and civilization were eternal. But their world came to an abrupt end in 651 AD, when the last Persian Empire, led by the Sassanid dynasty, was conquered by Arab invaders.

Yazdegerd III, the grandson of Khosrow II, was the last Sassanid Shah. After the death of Khosrow II, a succession of weak rulers had acquired the Empire’s throne. Almost every ruler was murdered within a year of taking power. The imperial palace had turned into a zone for slaughtering the kings and aristocrats. Generals had become warlords. They were commanding their own militia and battling for power all over the country.

In 632 AD, when Yazdegerd ascended the throne, he was eight years old. The real power was being wielded by his generals and the members of the aristocracy who were engaged in fighting the civil war. Overtaken by political intrigues and the civil war, the Sassanids failed to take note of the new threat: an army of Islamic Arabs. They did not expect an attack from the Arabian desert. But the unthinkable happened. 

In 633, the Sassanid army was defeated by an Arab Islamic army near the Sasanian city of Hira. After the fall of Hira, the Persian elite started taking note of the Arab army. But by now it was too late. From 633 to 637, the Arabs defeated the Sassanid army in two major battles—Battle of al-Qadisiyyah and the Battle of Nahavand—and a series of smaller battles.

In 642, Yazdegerd fled to Isfahan where he tried to make a last stand by raising a small army. His army mutinied when the Arab leadership bribed the soldiers with the offer of free land. Yazdegerd fled to Estakhr but the Arabs invaded the city and razed it to the ground. The Persian nobles who had fled with Yazdegerd were killed in Estakhr. Yazdegerd ran from one city to another while being pursued by the Arab army.

In 651, Yazdegerd was hiding in the establishment of a miller in a small village called Marw. According to historical sources, the miller killed Yazdegerd for his jewelry. With the death of Yazdegerd, the age of Zoroastrianism in Persia came to an end. Islam became Persia’s state religion, and the Zoroastrians were given the dhimmi status. By the tenth century, there were very few Zoroastrians left in the country.

Heraclitus: On the Importance of Strife and Wars

“War is the father of us all, King of all. Some it makes Gods, some it makes men, some it makes slaves, some free.” ~ Heraclitus.

"Homer was wrong in saying, “Would that strife might perish among gods and humans.” For if that were to occur, all things would cease to exist." ~ Heraclitus. 

Heraclitus is taking a realist view of mankind. History tells us that wars and strife are the key pillars of progress (innovation, discovery, creativity, invention, and the pursuit of happiness). Without battling the old establishment, we cannot create a new world. It is on the debris of the old civilization that the edifice of a new civilization is built. It needs a supernova, the most destructive event in the universe, to create new stars and planets.

By annihilating an old civilization, we clear the space for the rise of a new civilization. Not all new civilizations are better than the ones that have been annihilated—in the process of constant rebirth or evolution, there are bound to be some dead-ends.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Important Lesson of History

Many empires have declined after being ruled by a politician who was lauded as a visionary and tough leader by his contemporaries. The Athenian Empire declined after Pericles. The Roman Republic declined after Julius Caesar. The Roman Empire declined after the reign of the five good emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. The Hun Empire declined after Attila the Hun. The culture of Mongolia was crushed under the colossal legacy of its greatest conqueror Genghis Khan. The Byzantine Empire declined after Alexios I Komnenos. The Ottoman Empire declined after Suleiman the Magnificent. The Russian Empire declined after Catherine the Great. The British Empire declined after Churchill. The Soviet Empire declined after Stalin. Britain saw a second phase of decline after Thatcher. The American Empire declined after Reagan.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Fall of Trantor’s Empire

The age of wars for supremacy in the galaxy is over. The rebellions by various galactic factions have been crushed. The galaxy is unified for all times under Trantor, capital planet of the mighty galactic empire. Under Trantor’s hegemony, there is no possibility of wars and rebellions anywhere in the galaxy. The only sentient beings of the galaxy, the humans, can now look forward to permanent peace and prosperity. But Hari Seldon, mathematics professor at Streeling University on the planet Trantor, has bad news.

Seldon has discovered a science called psychohistory, which uses history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make large-scale predictions about entities in which very large groups of humans are involved. When he runs his equations of psychohistory on a machine called Prime Radiant, which has been built by his colleague Yugo Amaryl, he is able to predict the brutal historical path that humanity in the galaxy will take in the future. Trantor’s galactic empire is doomed. The central authority in Trantor will collapse. Rogue generals will arise to battle for supremacy. There will be an epic civil war, like none other in the history of the galaxy. Billions of people will die. Trantor, which is home to forty billion people (the elite of the galaxy), will be wiped out. The annihilation of Trantor will lead to the eruption of rebellions by regional barons in several parts of the galaxy. The galaxy will become divided once again.

For his dire predictions Seldon earns the nickname Raven. Centuries later it was discovered the process of decline and fall of Trantor was following the exact pattern that Seldon had predicted. This scenario is from Issac Asimov’s five books of the Foundation series. I think the prediction of the future of human societies is impossible because complex dynamic systems are unpredictable—the events, which might seem minor from a contemporary perspective, can lead to large-scale and completely unexpected consequences in the future. However, Asimov’s Foundation series is entertaining science fiction.

Lesson of History: Survival of the Fittest

History respects strength. The notions of man’s rights, human rights, morality, and national sovereignty are the rationalizations of philosophers—history does not respect such notions. “Survival of the fittest”: the phrase which Herbert Spencer had coined in 1864, after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, is not effective in explaining biological evolution. But it is effective in explaining the movement of history. The strong civilizations survive. The weak ones perish.

No two contests between civilizations are alike. In every age a new type of strength counts. In the Ancient Age and the Middle Ages, it was primarily the ferocity of the warriors that determined the victor. Religion was often used for motivating the people to unite and fight the enemy. In the Modern Age, the Age of Imperialism, it was the ferocity of the warriors, and the technological, strategic, and diplomatic skills that they possessed, that determined the victor. Ideology was used by the modernists after the nineteenth century to motivate the warriors.

After 1990, the world entered the digital age—in this age another kind of strength is required to win the civilizational wars. Though the digital age is all about technology, it will not be won by the side with better technology. This is because digital technologies are having a massive sociological and cultural impact. They are corroding the inner strengths of the societies by fostering alienation, sedentary lifestyle, low birth rate, political correctness, and a rejection of traditional values. In the civilizational conflicts of our age, having better digital technology is a liability.

The high technology nations have become “unfit”. Their culture is lost, their economy is collapsing, they have become incapable of using their military to win decisive victories during wars, and their population is alienated, divided, and lethargic. They are ripe for conquest. Many of these nations have already been conquered, wholly or partially, and the rest are likely to fall soon.