Five decisive military defeats of Imperial Rome

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Image Source: Roman legion. Wkimedia Commons. Free Art License

Rome was not built in one day: neither did it fall in one day. The process through which the Roman Empire declined and eventually fell was a long one, going all the way to the fateful day of 29 May 1453 when Constantinople, seat of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor, fell to the army of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. It wasn’t all decline and fall as imperial power recovered dramatically from time to time but it is impossible to deny the gradual recess of imperial power.

Such a decline was more due in part to state institutions that could not face adequately new challenges, internal infighting and changing social and economic conditions. Yet military weakness and defeats on the battlefield did play their part in this decline of imperial power. …


Byzantium’s surprisingly advanced educational system

The educational system of the Byzantine Empire was in large part that inherited from the Hellenistic/Roman past. During primary schooling, students were initiated in reading and writing while secondary schooling deepened their knowledge. Higher education was to be found in large cities only and from the middle Byzantine period onward almost exclusively in Constantinople and with the initiative of Emperors or high ranking officials.

Despite some initial difficulties in synthesizing the Christian religion with the Pagan literature of antiquity, the Church accepted that the study of the intellectual tradition of the ancient world was to its benefit. …


The defeat of populists by centrism in Greece

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Image Source: Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s new Prime Minister. European People’s Party. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In an era in which we hear of the electoral success of right-wing and left-wing populists and the political center and establishment politicians are considered discredited by both sides, in Greece a center-right party managed to win the elections: and it did so by quite a margin and by achieving almost 40% of the vote. Whereas traditional conservative parties in much of the West have either been sidelined by right-wing populist ones or have succumbed to such populism themselves, in Greece the traditional party of the right made a comeback under a centrist, (classical) liberal leader espousing a platform of smaller, more efficient government, lower tax burden and greater security. …


Byzantium in Northern Africa

North Africa was under Byzantine control for almost two centuries, a relatively short amount of time for an empire that lasted more than eleven centuries. The region was under the Latin cultural sphere and as such Byzantine influence on North Africa was rather limited. The greatest influence Byzantium had on North Africa was physical rather than cultural, with the construction of many military sites to defend the province and sepulchral mosaics by the noble landowners. On purely cultural matters, Byzantine attempts to impose Orthodoxy caused civilian discontent and conflicts. …


The Rise and Fall of a Hellenistic State

The Seleucid Empire was the largest and most diverse of the successor states to Alexander’s Macedonian Empire. It was able to field a large and powerful army led by Kings who were first and foremost military commanders. The Seleucids managed to dominate Iran for 183 years (312–129 BC), a notable achievement considering the fact that the only uniting force keeping the Empire together was the martial prowess of the Kings. At its height, the Empire had a population equaling almost half of that of Qin Dynasty China. …


The greatest of the Roman Emperors

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Image Source: Constantine the Great. Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Constantine the Great (27 February 272 AD — 22 May 337 AD) is a towering figure in Roman, European and Western history. It is generally true that social and economic conditions are more important than ‘great men’ in shaping history but Constantine was one of the few people who really did shape history. His decisions to create a new imperial capital in the East, Constantinople, and embrace a new religion, Christianity, had momentous consequences for the history of Europe and the world in general.

The Tetrarchy — Constantine’s Early Years


A comparative study of the two great empires of antiquity

Introduction: The rise of Rome and Qin-Han

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Image Source: Locator map for the Roman Empire and the Chinese Han dynasty, c. AD 1. Wikipedia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The rise of the Roman Republic can in some ways be compared to the rise of the Qin state to prominence. Both were in the western margin of the civilized ecumene (the Greek states and the eastern Chinese states respectively) and were viewed as semi-barbaric. Their geographical position favored a focus on military capability. Both Rome and Qin were militaristic states. Both were able to develop thanks to being shielded by their geographical position from the great powers in the east. Eventually they were able to gain hegemonic power over a large sector of the ecumene, Italy for Rome and Sichuan for Qin. Then, in a series of high stake wars, Rome and Qin conquered their known ecumene. Qin was able to do so faster thanks to its protobureaucracy compared to the somewhat limited administrative capabilities of the oligarchic Roman state. …


The Indo-Greek Kings who ruled parts of modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are perhaps the most interesting and yet elusive figures of the Hellenistic World. The Indo-Greek states were a fusion of Greek and Indian traditions, their armies were some of the largest and most able of the Hellenistic era, and their Kings patronized Buddhism and influenced the artistic depiction of Buddha.

POLITICAL HISTORY

Alexander’s conquest of parts of northern India, although fascinating, was short-lived. A later attempt by Seleucus, one of the Macedonian Warlords attempting to carve out a Kingdom of his own, to reassert Greek control over India failed. His invasion of Punjab in 305 resulted in him ceding territories west of Indus to the Indian conqueror Chandragupta Maurya (Sandrokottos). Nevertheless, he was given war elephants by the Indian ruler, which were to prove invaluable as they played a decisive role in the defeat of Antigonus in the battle of Ipsos in 301.

The Seleucid Empire, despite losing its Indian territories, managed to retain Bactria which would later prove to be the springboard from which the Greeks would conquer northwest India. As Seleucus I moved the center of political power of the Seleucid Empire from Iran to Syria, where he build his new capital, his control of the eastern territories became tenuous at best.

Andragoras, Satrap of Parthia, revolted against the Seleucid Empire, but his province was overrun by the Parni, a nomadic people led by Arsaces. This isolated Bactria and allowed general Diodotus to declare his independence from his Seleucid overlord and form the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in c. 255 or 246. It was the Greco-Bactrian Kings who would establish Greek control in northwest India. It should be noted that we do not know much about the Indo-Greeks due to the fact that historical records about them are limited and for many of them we simply know their names and approximate reigns through the coins discovered by archaeologists. …


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Image Source: Manuscript miniature of Manuel I. Wikipedia Public Domain.

Manuel Komnenos has been a controversial figure, even in his own time. He was hailed for his charisma and military victories but also criticized for being overambitious, overconfident and for his failure at the battle of Myriokephalon. He can be considered however the greatest monarch of the Komnenian period of Byzantium. His ambitions have been overstated and his mistakes were not the main cause of Byzantium’s decline after his death though. During his reign, Byzantium was a strong state that made military gains at the expense of its neighbors.

Byzantium at the Age of the Komnenoi


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Image Source: Zhang Guo Having an Audience with Emperor Tang Xuangzong. Wikipedia. Public Domain.

The Tang Dynasty (618–907) is considered to be China’s golden age. It was a rich, educated and cosmopolitan realm that was well-governed by the standards of the age and expanded its influence in Inner Asia. It saw a flourishing of Chinese poetry and innovation.

Establishment of the Dynasty

China had for centuries been divided. Since the Western Jin Dynasty (265–316) collapsed due to internal infighting and barbarian invasions, much like those that plagued the Roman Empire during that period, China was fractured. There was a succession of dynasties in the North and South. The Sui Dynasty (established in 581) had managed by 589 to reunify all of China by destroying the southern Chen Dynasty. This dynasty was short-lived though. …

About

Christos Antoniadis

Undergraduate university student. Greek. I mainly write on historical subjects but occasionally write essays from a libertarian conservative viewpoint.

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