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February 02, 2007

The Warwick Boar, "ice" hockey, and true love

I haven’t put something up here for a while and I’m not going to add an academic posting. No, I’ve decided to go with something very close to my heart, inspired by something I read on the bus trip on to campus around noon.

At the back of the bus, where I took my seat after climbing aboard the pink rocket, happened to have a copy of the last issue of the Boar strewn on the bench. I quickly glanced at the front, then turned it to the back and the sports section. I opened it up and shockingly saw an article about the Coventry Blaze, the local ‘ice’ hockey team (hereafter I shall drop the ‘ice’ for reasons to be explained below). What’s this? Hockey taking up a complete page in the student newspaper? And, it has nothing do with a student team? I just KNEW I had to read on.

The story itself is about two curious guys to decide to take a pass on the more popular sporting options, like football and rugby, and go watch a live hockey game. It wasn’t long, however, before I came across some rather shocking statements: “one of America’s favourite past times”. America’s? What’s this? Inhale. Exhale. It’s surely just a passing thing… But as I read on I soon found references to things like “American Pie” and the ever-ubiquitous chanting at international sporting events of “U-S-A”. By this point I was pretty livid. No. Shocked. Stunned. Wounded even. And, with a nod to my Greco-Roman historiographical forebears, I think it’s time for a digression.

Love is a sticky thing. Whenever you truly love something, or rather, whenever I truly love something, my better judgement tends to be clouded, particularly when I perceive something about it/them as overtly negative; and unjustifiably so. This was such a case. Plus, not only did it seem that one of my truly great loves was on the verge of being attacked (which it wasn’t), so was another: the game of hockey, and my country (Canada – that country tucked in between Alaska and the 49th parallel). How could a journalist – and this comes the day after watching “Good Night and Good Luck” again – make such blatant errors of fact? America’s pasttime? A sport that has no major network coverage in the US and struggles to get fans in many of the southwestern cites that have professional teams should hardly be classified as one of America’s pasttimes, no?

Now, okay okay. Level heads must prevail. As they explicitly stated, they know nothing about the game beyond a failed attempt to play NHL ‘98 – ironically I was thinking just this morning about how one of my fondest memories from my undergraduate years was playing NHL hockey with two friends in my room, but that’s somethinge else…sorta… That’s fair. And, they know nothing about Canada, which is also fair. What’s more, I shouldn’t fault them because my quite passionate love, both for hockey and my countury, had temporarily obscured my ability to reason. First of all, outside of Canada (and some Eastern Europeans, some Scandanavians, and some nothern state Americans) really cares about hockey? The only country to my knowledge that loves the game so is Canada; so much in fact that it was made a joint national sport with lacrosse several years back (hence, for us, it is only hockey, and not ‘ice’ hockey. What is called hockey here, is for us, ‘field’ hockey). I have no illusions about hockey’s lack of popularity outside of the borders of Canada. I’m puzzled, but not entirely surprised. Nor do I, like many of my countrymen, have deluded ideas about how popular the sport is in the US, and how it means so much for us to be the best at the sport, when they, like most others, care little. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with individuality. Second of all, outside of Canada, who really knows about Canada? Not many. That’s no one’s fault but our (our being Canadian) own for doing such a fine job of maintaining what was a good international reputation. All in all, I cannot, nor should I, blame these two guys for doing a wonderful thing for me.

Yes, despite my initial desire to “Kill, Kill, Kill!!!”, I read on and found that these two guys actually enjoyed their experience. What’s more, they could feel the seeds of a genuine interest in the sport gestating deep within their souls…or something to that effect. Never mind then the errors at the beginning of the article, and the seeming hostility at the start of this one for that matter. They’ve shown that there is hope – for this love is much like I think the love of a child might be like. There are “other” people out there who have shown an interest in something that means so much to me. I’m no longer alone in the sporting universe. And so, my hat’s off to you, with a big thanks. Yes, hope spring’s eternal (as my dad would say)!


September 28, 2006

Armies, Frontiers, and National Security: Supplemental

This is just a supplementary post to that last one because I’ve just found out that it gets better. The US coast guard has apparently for a few months been patrolling the great lakes (4 out of 5 of which are half Canadian/half American – that is, half are Canadian waters, half are American waters) are now armed with machine guns. What’s even better is that they’ve conducted live action exercises which have involved the firing of thousands of lead bullets into the lakes. I would also like to point out that that something like 40 million people use the water of the lakes as drinking water.

There’s another juicy tidbit. The US and Canada had signed a treaty following the cessation of hostilities in the War of 1812 which forbade the use of weapons in the Great Lakes. Well, I guess the concern was, and I quote (from a newspaper article), “That treaty, the argument goes, was drafted to ensure peace in the Great Lakes by forbidding weapons of war such as cannons on sailing ships”. So, it follows tha the Americans are therefore wary of ships with canons sailing across the great lakes. Or, something like that.

Now, I’m not sure what’s worse about all of this. The fact that it’s happening, or that most Canadians aren’t as shocked and alarmed about all of this as I am.


September 21, 2006

Armies, Frontiers, and National Security

Okay. So, most of my posts on this site have been related to my field/s of interest; that is, my current research. A quick glance at the title might suggest that I’m about to ramble on about the same old shit. Heck, I devoted about 90% of my 2 MA years back in Soviet Kanuckistan to the Roman Imperial army and its frontiers (there was some philology, mythology, and politics thrown in, but…not so much). But – and I urge you to brace yourself – this post is not about that.

For the last, well, let’s say, 150 years or so Canada and the US have had the longest undefended border in the world. There’s 1000’s of km’s of border with nary a border crossing in sight. I always took this as something to be proud of: granted, I’m naive about a lot of things, but most of the bad stuff that crossed the borders went through the major border crossings (south of Vancouver, Detroit, Port Huron, Niagara Falls, air- and seaports not included) anyway. In 3 years this incredible “oversight (if you’re a Republican)” will be no more as the US plans on spending billions on a virtual fence filled with un-manned drones, fences, and – cue references to the Rome World – towers.

So, is this where I say, “what is this world coming to”? No. This world came to that a while ago. But, as a fervently patriotic Canadian, I feel saddened that yet another piece of our ‘national sense of innocence’ has been chipped away. Are such steps by the US government necessary in an age of invisible enemies? Maybe, and certainly this could benefit Canada’s sovereignty too. Yet, – and here’s where the Romans come back into the picture – if any baddie really wants to get in, this won’t stop them; it’s more likely to keep the goodies out, then keep the baddies from coming in. Tis a sad day indeed.


August 27, 2006

Byzantine Studies (and by proxy Classical Studies)! Huh! What is…it good for!

I just go back today from the XXIst Congress of Byzantine Studies in London. It was a pretty inredible – and tiring – experience, and one that has certainly given me a lot to think about. Actually, I could probably amble on about a number of different things but I'm going to instead focus on the comments of noted Byzantinist Gary Vikan, made at the conclusion to the last session of plenary papers. He brought up something that has been on my mind for a while, and particularly over the past month or two. To begin, I'm not going to answer the question, or at the very least, I'm not going to present my answer to that question; that's in part because I'm not sure there is one, or, I haven't yet found it. But, the question itself is still worth discussing. So – and since I haven't left a post in a while – without further ado, here it is: "Byzantine Studies (and by proxy Classical Studies)! Huh! What is…it good for!"

Vikan pointed out towards the end of his talk that the relegation of Pluto to the status of some chunk of rock way out in space made the front pages of the London Times. That decision was reached by a panel of scholars at a conference in Prague. He then noted that our conference, that is, the Byzantine Conference, didn't even register. He also pointed out that so many of the papers presented at the conference dealth with such small issues: scholars weren't pushing the envelope and discussing big issues. Is he right? Undoubtedly yes. Although a new friend pointed out that something pertaining to Byzantine Studies – and icon – did in fact make the paper, the fact remains, it wasn't the front page. Now, as I aluded to, this isn't the first time I've thought about this. A couple of years ago I met with a couple of my students and one asked me what the point of Classics was. I told her that I didn't know, but that there were jobs out for it and that I enjoyed doing. Such a definitive response, no? Well, I don't think that my views have changed all that much; now something that I had forgotten about has been moved from storage to the shelves. I've been struggling with my decision to pursue and academic career recently. I'm not so sure that I've made the right choice. Though I love my topic, and am sure I've developed some important skills, an academic career is a long and dark road; having been at school for such a long time thus far, I'm not sure that I'm prepared to continue toiling in the trenches for years to come. The question arises, what am I going to get out of this? Will I change anyone's life? Is the juice worth the squeeze? I'm not sure.

Now, probably the first line of defence is the deluded notion that only by understanding the past can we move forward. But, those who make the decisions that change the world probably don't heed the past successes and failures of long dead Romans and Byzantines. Thus, that defence is quickly breached. Perhaps the next line of defence is the assertion that it is important to learn about the past. Okay, that might hold of the onslaught for a bit (and granted, this bulwark is only slightly different from the first – a higher and thicker wall of stone, rather than a wall of turf if you will), and I certainly wouldn't deny that. But will it change the world? Again, highly unlikely. In fact, probably the only defence that I think is legit is the claim that the study of these subjects improves one's powers of argumentation and communication (unless you become a stuffy and inward–looking academic, but that's another story). Certainly learning a language, to whatever degree, beyond one's own is a good thing. You'll never be able to convince me that there will someday be one language spoken by all; in other words, the Tower of Babel is unlikely to fall. Plus, I feel that learning another language also helps one improve their knowledge of English (at least in my case, as English – or Canuckistani – is my mother tongue). Also, while the mighty image is still important, I'm not so sure that it's any more important than it was many moons ago. The written word, and written communication, still matters, regardless of its continuous evolution. So, if we could all communicate a little better, just imagine what a better world this would be?

Okay, so I gave what I think is a pretty reasonable defence to any claim that the study of Byzantium or Classics is, well, pointless; moreover, I had originally said that I wouldn't do such a thing. With that said, there is one important caveat that I need to mention: my defence was largely for a Byzantine or Classical education, not for a career. That means that the state or case for their academic study still remains unanswered. Perhaps, all I can really say is that if I think that their education is important, then surely someone has to do the teaching.

Does that make me feel any better? No. Would such an answer have pleased Dr Vikan? Again, the answer's probably no. So, I'll leave it for now and perhaps come back to it at some point with some stronger arguments. Anyway, if there's anything positive that I can take from the conference – and meeting people aside – it's that the Byzantines and Greek are pretty darn cool.


June 26, 2006

The Narrative Structure of Procopius' Wars

So, I've been thinking a bit about the structure of the Wars as whole and here I'm going to add some ideas that I might try testing out at some point in the future. Not sure just how plausible it is yet, but, a little elbow grease, a few more months, and some more close reading of P's Wars and I might have a better idea. It does seem to fit with this wonky 'rise and fall of Belisarius' idea. So, much to think about.

Having thought about the Homeric aspects again of the Gothic Wars and then the Wars as whole, I think that the Wars, whether or not it really does present the rise of Belisarius, is at least presented fairly symmetrically: in other words, it has a more or less symmetrical narrative. The order I think would be something like A1–A2–B1–B2–C–B/A. Now, the A and the B at the beginning are a little longer than the B and A (which is why I have made it A1–A2–B1–B2 and then B/A) in the latter part of the Wars, and admittedly the C is not quite at the geometric centre of the history. But, there are a number of things that, at least at this point, suggest such a structure.
1. Early on in the PW there is the somewhat mythological (historical perhaps?) battle between Ephthalites and Huns; at the end of the bk 8 there is the Heroic battle (as P calls it) between Teias and the Goths and Narses and the Romans.
2. Not long afterwards in the PW is the key battle of that part of the Wars, the Battle of Dara, which represents Belisarius' smashing debut; towards the end of bk 8 is the Battle of Taginae, which in many respects represents Narses' smashing debut. Plus, the two battles themselves are ordered along similar lines. P gives us a list of the Roman fighters in both cases, the forces themselves in both cases are heterogenous (reflective of the actual situation I'm sure, but P doesn't always highlight the varied character of the armies), there is a little skirmish between the 2 forces, there is one central set or lone single combat which boosts the morale of the Roman forces , there is the some sort of communication between the two sides before the central part of the narrative really begins (Peroz to Belisarius about bathing and Totila to Narses about a delay), there are speeches that are in some ways similar, there is the arrival of reinforcements for one side which ushers in the 2nd day of battle, and there's even the eating issue (midday stratagem at Dara, Narses prepared for that at Taginae), and then finally the main phase of fighting, and even the length of the two battles is comparable (about 85 lines for Dara, and about 95 for Taginae). Not perfect, but awfully similar, particularly when it's clear that there is quite a bit of variety among all the battle–narratives.
3. There is another key battle in bk 8 (the naval battle around Ancon) just as there is yet another key battle in the PW at Callinicum. And, while both of these battles are fairly important, it is the preceding in the case of the PW, and the following in the case of bk 8, that is the most important.
4. The peak of the narrative is the first siege of Rome, when Belisarius reaches his high–point of his career. The fighting here is rather unlike any other fighting in the rest of the Wars. Plus, this part of the Gothic Wars is also the most 'Homeric' and so 'heroic' of the Wars as a whole. And, to be honest, it is really only the Gothic Wars that is Homeric, for there P focuses on the single–combats and makes numerous references to both Homer and the events of the Odyssey (journeys of Odysseus).
5. In book 8 we have a return to the affairs of the capital of Byzantium, which were somewhat passed over in the VW and first couple of books of the GW, that were a fairly important part of the PW (though admittedly, bk 8 lacks set pieces along the lines of the the plague and the riots).
6. There is only the second sea–battle presented a little more than halfway through bk 8 that is similar to the sea battle at the beginning of the VW.
7. One last thing that I'll point out (of what I've noticed at this early stage) is the fact that we seem to get a return to the analepses that were common in the battels of the PW, but weren't really in the VW. At the same time, the prolepses that were fairly common in the VW, are not quite so evident in the bk 8 and in the latter stages of the GW.
8. One very last point: Belisarius doesn't appear in the narrative until well into the PW, whereas, he disappears from the narrative in the early stages of book 8.

One thing that I'll want to check about this is what sorts of events are described in the beginning and the end of the narrative. If there are X battles in the first 'half' of the narrative, are there also X battles in the second half? And if not, how close are they? As it stands, there are several battles described later on too, but they're often quite brief. That, however, may have been a conscious choice. I'll have to think about that.

Anyway, before I really think about any more of this I'll be doing some more thinking about discipline and generalship in the sixth century. A conference paper is only a week and a day away. Oh…and with 5 minutes to kickoff, go Australia!


June 17, 2006

Procopius, Generalship, and Homer

I have to go back to the academic posts. I also pointed out in my US defence that the lesser football nations are getting better, when in this World Cup it seems that the opposite has happened as the traditional giants are getting the results.

So, I had my upgrade meeting on Wednesday morning and one of the most interesting things that came of it was this idea of shaping my dissertation around generalship. Admittedly, I had been thinking about this over the past 6 months or so, and particularly recently as I've been working on this conference paper (on Procopius and Maurice and generalship), and so it seems like a logical progression, well, of sorts. I certainly do think, at least in the PW and the VW (which are what I've paid most attention to thus far), that generalship pervades Procopius' descriptions of battle. Plus, I think it would tie in with the work that I've done, and I would have to change all that much from my research plan. At the core the dissertation is meant to be a study of the battle descriptions of Procopius. The idea is that once I've done that, then here will be this work that will help guide those who use P in their own work, at least for warfare. It should also add something new to this discussion of P's classicism. Then there's this cultural bit that I've been thinking about. That is also where the generalship comes in. Do his views match those of the Greek literary tradition? Do his views match those of his contemporaries? Where does he fit? Interesting stuff.

Now, the problem is, that whenever I think about generalship I'm always thinking, is that too obvious? Is that all I'm doing really? After all, that's what P says he's going to do. So, he does it. But, I guess no one's really paid much attention to it, though it may only be because they didn't think it was necessary. Hmmm. I'm not sure. Belisarius has been discussed before, but usually in relation to P's development and thoughts and so forth. If I do go with this generalship approach, then P's characterization of B will certainly become an important part. I'd have to figure out where to fit that in, though I think I already have an idea. Hmm.

Also, thinking about the Gothic Wars and this rise and fall of B, I'm wondering if the GW aren't to some degree modelled on the Iliad. At the beginning of the Wars P makes this comparison between Homeric archers and contemporary archers. By making that comparison, he's trying to show why the Wars of J are the greastest ever. Fair enough. But, he also wants to make these little claims throughout, which I think he does, and with a reasonable amount of subtlety. Some scholars have seen in the GW some major similarities with Thucydides. Now, might those similarities be more in keeping with the Iliad? The whole thing starts with a woman who, to a certain degree, is taken (or forced to leave), her home. There is someone who claims that he only wants to get back what is his. The GW end on a somewhat negative note. There is the fairly tragic Greek hero, Belisarius, and the fairly tragic Trojan hero, Totila. Plus, that same Totila ends up dying in flight, much like Hector. There is a long period of stalemate, or flip–flopping in momentum between the two sides in the body of the work. And, the battle scenes are more gory in the GW than they'd been in the PW or VW. Plus, I also think that there are some big lists (ala the Iliad). So, what better way to make out your war as the best of all time than by comparing it with the greatest epic of all time? A little tweaking of the historical details of the GW to match, at least subtly, the Iliad, and then you have the Gothiad. Or something. Anyway, we'll see if my close reading of the GW changes this impression.

Go Oilers!!!!


June 12, 2006

USA Football…er Soccer

So, just to do something radically different, I'm going to leave a non–academics related post–sorry Procopius. Earlier today I left a comment on someone's blog in which I defended the US team and claimed that I would't be surprised if they made it out of their group in the top spot. I think I used some pretty decent arguments; what's more, that was probably ever defended a US sports team. They afterall usually favourites, or pretty close, in just about everything so there's really no need. Plus, they're rarely the underdog so for me they don't ever have that going for them. So, if you're reading this you probably know how the match turned out: the US got thumped. Yep, my career as a pundit in this country has probably just ended right as it was about to begin. In fact, I told some North American friends that I was going Triple A for my WC picks: that is, England (Anglo) as my pick of the favourites; the Americans as my dark horse pick; and the Australians as my underdog pick. I guess I haven't done so bad, I just hope that I haven't condemned the other two to certain doom. Perhaps I could say that I should stick to hockey. But, then again, I was about 99.9% confident that the Canadian men's team would win both the gold in the Olympics and the World Hockey Championships. And, they played like #$#%$#&. So, maybe I SHOULD just erase this post and stick with the academic ones, though they might be jinxed now too…

June 07, 2006

Procopius and Belisarius

It's been a while since I posted something and I guess it's about tiem I add something new. I guess I could have added something sooner, but this is first really important thing that I think I need to share (even if it's really only with myself). I am considering adding other more stuff to my blog, and non–school related things, but that may be a while yet. Still, you never know. Anyway, on with the show.

A common theme propounded by modern scholars is this idea that Procopius entered or rather embarked upon his work with such optimism, particularly after witnessing such astounding achievements as Belisarius' victory at Dara, and then the victories at Ad Decimum and Tricamarum, before losing his way and becoming hostile towards Belisarius and the whole enterprise by the Gothic Wars. As a result, he started blaspheming the Romans and their efforts. But is this really so? I'm starting to think that it's no; instead, Procopius presents this story that gets increasingly better throughout the Persian Wars before reaching its peak midway through the Vandal Wars. Then, there are still successes bu things start to go wrong. This, I think, is likely even true for particular Wars themselves, like the Persian, Vandal, and Gothic Wars. So, what I think happened is that Procopius always planned on including the positive and negative of Belisarius, who is for all intents and purpsoses, the protagonist of the Wars. In the first 3 books he measures up very well, particularly compared with his Persian and Vandal contemporaries. Much is made of how positive Procopius' treatment of the Goth Totila is in the Gothic Wars, but I might ask how negative IS his treatment of Gelimer and even Khusrau in the Persian Wars? What we see instead is the changing fortunes of Belisarius, which had always been Procopius' intention;. He said in the preface that he planned on including BOTH the successes and failures of his most intimate acquaintances. And, might not th evolving and tragic character of Belisarius be, in effect, what makes these wars so great? After all, it's not a history of the successes of Justinian, and wars have a nasty habit of revealing both the good and the bad in everyone. One last thing: I think that Belisarius is the Roman state in microcosm, for his fortunes and failures match those of the state in the narrative as well. And, there is much continuity within the Wars as a whole, and individual wars.

So where does teh Secret History and book 8 fit in? I'm not sure. The most I can say at this point is that books 1 through 7 were published altogether; book 8 was a later addition. It's character is different from its predecessors and so there's no need to see its inclusion with books 1 – 7 as problematic for my theory. Anyway. This theory could be modified further once I explore the Gothic Wars and Book 8 in more depth.


May 12, 2006

Bandum, Rance, Procopius, Amplificatio, and the Senators

At the gym the last few days I've been reading through some of Rance's articles. As I've noted before, I'm quite impressed with his work. Well, I came across in article on the fulcum a footnote related to my little rant about the bandum. He basically said the same things that I did. Unfortunately, there wasn't much new to add besides a reference to Paul the Deacon. Paul the Deacon, whom I haven't read, lived in the 8C. It may seem that its relevance is questionable, but we are dealing with a period with fairly limited resources. So, I can add the reference in his work to the reference to a certain Gregorius Illiberitanus, who was around in the 4C. I don't know much about him: the bandum reference to Gregorius' work comes from Souter's "Glossary of Later Latin"; it ends in AD 600 (or so the title says). For interests sake, I'll have to check that out sometime. Getting back to the reference to Paul, however, it seems that he makes the connection between a vexillum and a bandum. I'm pleased about that. One interesting aside, however, is that the bandum of the 6C seems to have been different in character from the vexillum of say the 2C. It was less of a banner and more of a flag. There are a few articles that I could/should check out, but I'll hold off for the moment until it becomes specifically relevant to my work. Finally, Rance has highlighted, and rightly I believe, the importance in elucidating the military vocabularly in use in Late Antiquity. With such disparate sources, I think the need for some sort of study is in order. He notes that there are some olders ones, but they really should be brought up to date, particularly with the appearance of some critical studies of some of the important texts (perhaps mine might be included in that list at some point?). Anyway, lots of food for thought.

I'm going to send in another conference proposal, though admittedly it's another graduate conference. What I plan on looking in the paper is amplification in Procopius' Vandal and Gothic Wars. The title that I have tentatively given it is: "The Horror of War: Amplificatio and Procopius' Vandal and Gothic Wars". The conference itself is about strangers in the Roman world. I figure that my paper many of the possible topics suggested in the 'call for papers'. For one thing, there's the historiographical angle and my analysis of one aspect of Procopius' work. Plus, there's the warfare angle. Suffering and destruction is a problem discussed by Procopius. And it's real: it's happening now; it happened then. There's also this unique historical situation, virtually unknown in the rest of Classical History. The Romans that are the focus of Procopius' Wars are actually East Romans since they are the citizens of the surviving half of the Roman empire. They, at least at the elite level, still largely saw themselves as Romans; they'd continue to do so for years to come. But, Rome itself was no longer part of the picture. Well, in this re–conquest they came into greater contact with (for there was still trade and some political ties between east and west) their former, well, empiremen? Italy and north Africa had been the heart of the empire for centuries. In the 5C, both were lost. By the time Justinian decides to reconquer the west, the west had been left to its own devices for almost 75 years. The commanders of the expeditions, and Belisarius in particular, are quick to point to the sameness of these people. Would the common lot of soldiers really have conceived of them as such? Perhaps not. Perhaps they wouldn't have given it much thought either way. In fact, it's probably the former. They certainly would have spoken a different language and possibly practised a different form of Christianity, or even a different religion altogether. Anyway, anothe rpoint is that they suffer in the re–conquest. But, people always suffer in historiography. That's one of the stock things; it's part of the historian's rhetoric. Procopius is no different. As well and classically trained as any of his predecessors, and probably a lawyer to boot, Procopius was well–versed in rhetoric and deployed throughout his narrative, and in particular throughout the Vandal Wars. So, and now I finally get to the thrust of what I want to look at, or at least, its central question, "How does Procopius' amplificatio of the inhabitants suffering fit into the respective narratives, is there any truth to it, does the unique nationality of the sufferers have any bearing on Procopius' work?" Basically, it will be a study of Procopius' description throughout the texts of the suffering of folk in Africa and/or Italy during the re–conquest. Yeah. Gotta get all of that into a suitable proposal.

Blow Sens Blow…boo hoo hoo. So many years of playoff collapses. Will they ever succeed? Can they slay their demons? What sort of animal do I have to sacrifice to the hockey gods to make them propitious?


April 23, 2006

Rance, Procopius, and the Advantages to Re– and Close Reading

I must confess that whenever I read an article, particularly recent or newly discovered ones, that pertain to my dissertation, I often feel a little bit disappointed: I'm so keen to try and uncover new and original things about Procopius, and a little wary whenever it seems that something has already been done. So, it was with a little bit of consternation that I read Rance's recent article on battle in Procopius, and more specifially, the battle of Taginae in 552. Does this article put work to rest? Luckily no.
First, as I've come to expect from Rance's work, it's well written, carefully researched, and full of some interesting and important points. Somewhat surprisingly – though perhaps it shouldn't be – there are some observations/findings of Rance that match what I've found in my work thus far. So, from a positive perspective, that means that my findings are not way out of line. But, the article focuses on one battle – though he discusses and refers to many other parts of Procopius' narrative – and includes an important discussion of Late Roman tactics, and in particular, the importance of infantry in Late Roman army. I think it's important; in part because the secondary literature that he refers to often neglects the many narrative techniques that Procopius uses in his battle descriptions. One must always bear these in mind, and that's perhaps the most important thing that I'm planning on discussing through the course of my dissertation; specifically in the context of warfare.
One thing that Rance has done is look at the battle in isolation, and treated not just the narrative, its tactics, strategic importance, and place within late Roman warfare, but he also discussed the factional and fictional elements in Procopius' narrative. I haven't yet decided whether I should look at the non-fictional elements of his battle narratives; at present I'm not discussing the battles on their own – though when I'm doing the research I do look at each independently – but rather topically. Which is better? I think it depends on the context. I may yet decide in my disseration to look at the battles individually, though I'm not sure how'd I'd fit them into my current research plan.
I highlighted the importance of re- and close reading in my title. No matter how many times I go back over the parts of Procopius' narrative that I'm looking at now, I always seem to find something new. Significantly, re-reading articles and books can also be important in this regard. I'm re-reading an article – and this blog entry represents a break from that reading while I listen to the NHL playoffs – on narratology in Thucydides and in it Hornblower has noted some things that I need to look for in Procopius: I think I had had them in mind at first, but when you're reading so much, it's not hard to lose thoughts/ideas in the shuffle. I guess that's one main reason why it's important to make notes of all thoughts, and to try and keep them separate or categorized, and organized. Yeah. I guess that makes sense.
So, now I need to go back through Procopius' battles and think more about anachrony and linearization. Because of the structure of the 'Wars', it's hard to classify his work as either linear or otherwise. It's divided like Appian's (writing in the 2nd century AD) 'History' of the republican wars, though there are fewer wars and they are treated in more detail. Anyway, back to the article…

April 20, 2006

The Bandon Continued…

Follow-up to Semeia, Vexilla, and Roman/Byzantine Military Standards from Conor's blog

I've done some more checking this evening about the mysterious bandon and standards. They existed, and are mentioned, in the 6th century (at least at the very end when the treatise of Maurice is supposed to have been writing). In Maurice's treatise a bandon is both a standard, and a unit from 200 – 400 men. It continued in use well into the 10th century and beyond, though by that time it had shrunk to about 50 men. Now, even though after some cursory reading I did come across some more information about the bandon (particularly in the works of Haldon, Syvanne, and Treadgold), none of them really discuss its creation: it's just basically there and from Maurice to Leo it changed. So, the question still remains, how did it come into being? There are lots of questions that still need answering about the organization of the Late Roman army; whether or they can be answered is another problem altogether. Regardless, I'll see what I can uncover about this latest mystery…

April 19, 2006

Semeia, Vexilla, and Roman/Byzantine Military Standards

So, this is another research blog to remind me of some interesting things that I need to come back to at some point. The topic, is the standard.

Keeping in line with this topic of morale is the standard. The standard had been an important part of the Roman military for a while; in fact, since the days of the Republic. When commanders, or units, lost their standards in combat, there was usually a desparate attempt to get it back. If it didn't work out in that very battle, then they would endeavour to do so in the future. When Augustus' great feats was to win back – albeit through negotiations and diplomatic finagling – the standards lost by Crassus at Carrhae. One last point about standards in combat: during the course of battle another interesting – or, rather, pertinent – point in this regard was the falling of the standard. Just as the sight of a general falling in the heat of battle may cause soldiers to panic and flee, so might the falling of the standard. There were important things, and they remained an integral means of maintaing, or bolstering morale through the Byzantine period.

In Late Antiquity, even with the advent of Christianity and its proliferation in the army, the standard was still important. Both Maurice and Procopius mention the standard on a number of occasions; plus, Maurice uses at least two different words for standard (early stages: he could use more and I'm not sure whether there's a distinction yet). Now, here's the 'new' interesting bit.

Vexillations were used in the 1st century AD by the army (if not earlier) and these rag-tag units got their name from the vexillum, the Roman standard (signum is also used to identify a standard, at least in Vegetius). By the 4th C the vexillationes had morphed into a new, largely cavalry-based unit. Before they could be formed from both infantry and cavalry units, and legiones and auxilia. These units were used increasingly from Marcus Aurelius and eventually they spent more and more time away from their home units. That's basically how they became separate units (and probably at some point – Gallienus? – in the 3rd C someone said, let's just make them a separate automous unit). Now, what's interesting is that some of the units that arose in the early – to – mid Byzantine period (7th – 9th centuries) also seem to have got their name in the same way that the vexillationes did. So, by perhaps the 8th C (really unsure about this) and well after the themes have been introduced – actually, in that light perhaps this wasn't until at least the 9th C – we also see the rise of smaller units (the themes seem to have been the next step in the evolution of the older mobile armies, I think the Commitatenses and Praesental armies, of Late Antiquity – 4C – 7C, and what happened when they were given permanent homes in Anatolia) called banda. So, to look for the evolution of the unit banda, we probably (if it hasn't been done yet) have to go back to actual meaning of the word banda (I know that it at least shows up in Maurice, and have no idea if it shows up in any other sixth or seventh century Greek texts and means standard – Procopius doesn't use the word, at least thus far in my work I haven't come across it – he sticks with semeion). Anyway, it just seems that the military units called banda got their name from the same process whereby the vexillationes got their name. If anything, this also (though perhaps only slightly) points towards continuity in many of the practices of the Roman army from the Principate well into the early and then mid-Byzantine period. Interesting indeed.

One last point: GO SENS GO!!!!


April 15, 2006

Maurice and Battle

This is just a little research thought that I wanted to get down in a format that's easily accessible, at least for me, at some later point.

I was just at the Classical Association Conference in Newcastle and went to some interesting talks by some guys from Manchester. One was looking at the pyschology of battle; the other was looking at some of the mechanics of battle, or at least what he could make of the mechanics of battle for the Republic from a hitherto unused source: Livy. I think he made some good points; and it was an interesting paper. In general, however, the two papers raised some questions for me concerning the psychology of battle in Late Antiquity, a topic which I'm exploring at the moment, at least through the work of Procopius. I'm going to be presenting a paper in about 2 and a half months in which I'll be looking at discipline, morale, and generalship. So, I've had occasion to take a closer look at the work of Maurice – the study is focusing on Procopius and Maurice. What's the new, or at least pertinent, bit that I want to discuss now. Well, here it goes.

Maurice's work is a technical treatise that was presumably written to show the powers that be – or at least that's the stated aim in the preface – what to do in the various military encounters that they might encounter in warfare around AD 600. So, there are various training exercises, tactical formations, leadership tips, strategy, preparing for battle, and the like. Each 'book' is broken down into smaller sections. In recent years the book, or manual, has been afforded more prominence as a reliable guide to battle and warfare c. 600: I see no reason, at least not yet, to dispute this. Now, before I get to the really interesting bit – at least for what's relevant to this discussion – let me mention something else.

I'm sure that most people would think that one of the key factors in success for a unit is its cohesion. A group that works well together is likely to be more successful than one that does not. The ties that bind soldiers is a theme found in countless war movies, of which the most recent, at least of those that I've seen, is Jarhead. Thought that was a film, it was based on a set of memoirs written by an actual marine who served in the first Gulf War. It's plausible right? Besides, anyone who has an interest in, or has actually participated in, team sports would probably agree that teamwork is the cornerstone of success. Talent's one thing, but if the team doesn't work toegether, they're unlikely to finish on top – we'll find out soon enough which NHL team and which national football team has mastered that. So, you might be surprised to learn that in academia there has been a move away from the role of cohesion in the success of individual units in battle. One other factor that has moved to the front of the fray is competition: the most recent monograph concerned with the Classical World to tackle the issue is Lendon's 'Soldiers and Ghosts', a well-written, and convicing book. Despite Lendon's forceful arguments, I cannot help but think that we shouldn't toss out the cohesion theory just yet. Now, let me take you back to the sixth century.

Over the centuries different cultures have had different ways of writing about battle. What you may think is important in battle, is not necessarily what someone writing in the 16th century would have thought was important, or what someone wrting in the 5th century BC would have thought was important. That's one thing that makes recreating, and really understanding, ancient battle so tricky. But, there's still a lot that you can learn from reading ancient battle accounts. My dissertation is looking at one particular author's accounts of warfare in the middle of the sixth century, of which battle is only one solitary, but a very important, part. What's interesting about Maurice is that he looks at battle from a different perspective. Whereas Procopius' work is more literary, Maurice's is more practical. I firmly believe that he (whoever he was – Maurice, the name of a late 6th/early 7th century emperor may not be the author of the treatise) was trying to tell it like it is, and how he thought it should be. Plus, the stuff he writes isn't cooky – logically it makes sense – and is quite believable. In fact, there are even similarities between what Procopius describes in battle in his opus and what Maurice prescribes in his manual (okay, there are some other issues there, but I don't want to get into them). So, it think it should be quite clear now how important the two works are, and how tricky a thing battle can be to examine.

Getting back to cohesion, it's hard to find examples of that sort of behaviour in Procopius. When he does highlight individual elements, he usually focuses on important figures, and more often than not generals. That's understandable: the line between history and fiction was a bit fuzzier for him then, than it is for us now. What is more, I'd like to think that he had an audience to consider, and they'd be more interested in hearing about the great deeds of the figures of the day, not the exploits of Joe-foot soldier unless they were exemplary; they'd have to be more than spectacular to fit the bill. Here's where Maurice is important. I'm going to include one particular snippet from book 12 on 'Mixed Formations, Infantry, Camps, and Hunting'. This is Dennis' translation from 12.B.10 entitled 'Instructions to Be Given About Punishments':

"After the army has been organized as described above, it should be assembled in its entirety one day. If the soldiers and officers already know the regulations set down by law, simply remind them. Otherwise they should be read to the troops separately in each tagma by their own commanders, as we explained in the chapters dealing with the cavalry."

The first key bit is in the first sentence: "assembled in its entirety one day". Even if we didn't have the rest of the text, we could speculate, heck, we could even state with a fair bit of confidence that it was implying that each unit trained on its own. If there was any doubt, then the third sentence clears that up: "should be read to the troops separately in each tagma". Now, one problem that stands out at first is the size of a tagma: Syvanne gives an ideal size of 256 men for each tagma. Maurice says itís 310 men. Either way, that size is a bit too large to fit the bill for this concept of cohesion.

As it turns out though, the troops, and units, were divided even further into contubernia (the Gk is kontoubernin). In the Principate a contubernium had 8 soldiers; there were 10 contubernia in a century, and so on up the legion of about 5200 men. Now, by the end of the 6th century the units had certainly changed, but I think itís important that Maurice was still using the term contubernium, quite a small and personal size, in his description of the equipment for soldiers (this comes from book 1). He says that each contubernium should have a tent.

Anyway, this small note on some thoughts on cohesion in the late Roman army is becoming an essay and so Iíll leave it there and do some more reading before returning to it. More to followÖ


April 14, 2006

Procopius and Bunny's

I haven't done this in quite a while and it's more than likely that I'll remain inconsistent in my blog postings. Nevertheless, there's no time like the present to 'geter done'. Well, I'm actually procrastinating a bit: I'm about to do a wee translation of Procopius for the thesis and I'm, well, hesitating. This is afterall more important right?

It's actually a pretty interesting passage and the only battle-narrative in the Vandal Wars with any rapid acceleration in narrative pace; it also happens to be pretty vivid. Interestingly, this particular scene is also outside the body of the narrative for the Vandal Wars and is actually in the proem, or introduction I guess. This is not a battle that Procopius would have been privy to (it occurred during the reign of the emperor Leo in the 5C), and is actually the only naval battle encountered thus far. But, despite the questionable authenticity of the details of this battle, I think that it's pretty significant, particularly in relation to what follows in the course of the Vandal Wars. Procopius intervenes on a few occasions and seems to be forcing us to look towards the events that will transpire when Justinian, Belisarius – and Procopius – begin the invasion in 536. Hmmm. Anyway, there's still much to do.

Um, it's Easter and the school is closed. Many things close here (the UK) on holidays, and more than I'm used to. Sure, things do close on holidays in Ontario, but not quite as often, and even during the regular operating hours, they're open later. Just a comment (and pet peave I guess).

NHL playoffs are days away! What does this mean? This means that I'll be staying up til the wee hours of the morning listening to online broadcasts of the Senators as they embark on their quest for the Cup. If I didn't have the internet, I don't know HOW I'd cope with this televised hockey deprevation.

Hopefully I'm off to visit the old country soon: The Union of Canadian Socialist Republics. Unfortunately, the summer smog by then should be settling in over southern Ontario and I expect that after the warmest winter on record (in Ontario), that it will also be a scorcher during the summer. Ah, the British summer is looking quite appealling…


February 15, 2006

A Romantic Evening with Procopius

Ah Valentine's Day, and a Romantic night with my good buddy Procopius. Does anything beat that? Come on! Let's be reasonable here…hmm…maybe I'll leave that one alone.

I'm sitting here at this hour stuffed with food that I definitely shouldn't have eaten – now that smoking's banned the next logical step is for healthy places like Subway to remain open later in the evening – and thinking about going to bed. Unfortunately, I'm also hopped up on chocolate. Not a winning combination for valubale sleep and a healthy lifestyel. Anyway, this is about Procopius!

I'm on page 28 or 29 of this latest section and to paraphrase my subtle roommate, the verbal diarrhea just keeps on coming. Originally, that is, upon arrival and the commencement of my tenure here at Warwick, the plan was to do a study of battle in Procopius. This year (that is, since the term restarted in January) it was suggested that that would not be enough for a PhD thesis. Luckily, I had plan A2 stored away in the 'ol noggin, and a more general study of Procopius as a military historian really began to take shape. But, like I said, the crap just keeps on flying onto my laptop's screen and I don't know when it will end. I'm only doing books 1 and 2 of the Persian Wars at this point, and battles at that (sieges are on deck), but I'm not yet down with this preliminary analysis and yet I've barely scratched the surface of the secondary literature. God! There really is quite a bit of work to do while exploring the battle's alone. Plus, I think that there will be even more to do when I get to the Gothic Wars. Hmmm. A lot to think about.

This Procopius guy actually is pretty clever; and subtle. Sure, his writing is relatively clear and it's not at all hard to follow, but I'm starting to think that there's more going on beneath the surface then is at first evident. Kaldellis may certainly be on to something in his recent polemical monograph.

More to follow…pehaps.

Oh yeah. Go Canada Go! At least, for those athletes that have a good chance of winning a medal, aka, the hockey players. Men get 'er goin' tomorrow. Ooh…exciting!!!

P.S. Jackass the Movie is a horrible movie; but it's funny as hell.


February 12, 2006

Saturday's with Procopius

As this is my first blog, I'm not entirely sure what to say. So, perhaps I'll make this entry a research diary of sorts. The work portion of the day began with a 2.5–3 hour marathon with the program Antioch as I attempted to add a decent Greek front to my Word program. It eventually worked and I'm pretty happen with the results, though I'd like to download some other fonts; I've heard (and seen) that the Oxford font is pretty good. Anyway, after that it was back to the latest thesis segment. Reasonably productive day: managed to add 4–5 pages of text. However, I had a rather long research block following my Antioch adventure. I think that there was a blockage in some sort of neural passage. It's getting on in the evening now and I'm thinking about adding some more work…but at this point it might not work out. Ah well. This is a start.

One little aside…yay Canada for the gold medal and the victory in women's hockey.