Notes on Readings on Byzantium

During the day today, I read further in John Julian Norwich’s (longer) Byzantium – The Early Centuries, and have gotten about half way through the first volume (and therefore halfway though the tenure of Justinian I as well). Below the fold, find some remarks on what I read.

  • At the beginning of Justinian’s reign Mr Norwich first brings up the famous (infamous) two “parties” that were in opposition the “Green” and “Blue” factions, which were divided in a number of ways. Primarily the color association arose from their following of opposing NASCAR chariot racing teams. However, they also divided along class, landed vs populist grounds as well as on theological monophysite/Orthodox boundaries. It seems as well, on the last two the divisions were not quite as clean as for their perspective chariot squads. Parallels, might be drawn between the GOP/Democratic split today in this country. Well, today of course it is completely different, after all our split is between Red and Blue, not Green. 😉
  • And where we might today find the monophysite heresy somewhat abstruse, 1500 years from now, the internal debate between Progressive/Liberal/Conservative/Libertarian which all, as Bertrand de Jouvenel points out, share quite a number of abstract shared assumptions which and the substance of our debate from an outsiders perspective likely less clear.
  • After Constantine I, the next ruler to hold the purple for any length of time was surnamed by history Julian the Apostate. An aggressive pagan who tried desperately to stem the growing Christian tide, he was held academic leanings and interests as well. As such he has captured the imaginations of many a later writer. However, overall his reign was regarded something of a failure. In a recent conversation, Obama’s academic and intellectual achievements were held as a qualification to rule. Julian’s failure as a ruler is one (of many) failures of academics in power.
  • One of George Washington’s and our Constitution Convention’s greatest gifts to this nation was a prescription for turning power over to the next as well as an insistence that military and political stay apart. This is certainly a constant message in this history. Rome, East and West, continually used as the military the primary root and source of their power.

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