"Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."-George Santayana
|Horses from the Hippodrome of Constantinople|
Photo by Tteske.
I woke up this morning to find the scent of burned Hickory wood on the breeze and airships made of Oak leaves floating by as if they were in some regatta sponsored by the Most Serene Republic of Venice. My morning thoughts are often travelers who upon having an unfortunate accident somewhere out at sea, find themselves washed upon some unknown shore. This morning they washed up on the shores of historic Constantinople...
This is my blog. I try to write of things medieval in nature. However there are times when the story to be told goes much deeper into the timeline than what one would or could call medieval. I have a friend we will call John for this article. John is a pragmatic modernist, who believes that anyone or everyone who lived before the American Civil war belong to a large mouth category he calls "Ignorant, muck raking savages, living in their own filth and squalor."
"It was only with the discovery of the modern medicine and the maturation of the industrial revolution did we evolve as a species. Before that it was only half seen glimpses of light amongst savagery.Only when that world died did we then become truly modern and civilized"-John the Modernist
My last heated exchange with John came burbling up this morning as I thought about what he had said. We have had many conversations about what constitutes a civilization,-educational enlightenment, art and culture, science, the ability to disseminate knowledge . All basic building blocks of developing or creating a bright future full of possibilities. John's opinion is that the generation born right after WWI ended, had won the historic lottery.-The golden ticket from Willy Wonka fame as it were.
Right on the heels of those thoughts came a history lesson I learned as a precious child, involving the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora and the Charioteers. Chariot racing had always been popular with the Greeks.-Four horses pulling a man on a small light cart around a race track at high rates of speed was the ancient version of NASCAR. It was terribly exciting. As in NASCAR when a team of horses and their charioteer crashed there was blood and death. If you have ever watched the movie Ben-Hur, you have a fair grasp of what a race at the Hippodrome looked like. As with many things of a Greek origin, the Romans absconded with the idea and promoted wildly. By the time, the Greek, ahem... errr.... Roman Empire in the East came into being, it had all but replaced the Gladiatorial games as the most popular sport in the empire.
I can even imagine Greek Polis Rednecks in the audience talking to each other, "Yeah Niko, if dem der boys from Alexandria aint bumpin' den it aint racing! Know what I mean?"
Like a lot of sports, it had its fanatical adherents, and soon associations were formed. Imagine football hooligans armed with swords and knives. The two largest groups were simply called the Blues and the Greens. These "associations" became so large, that they became political. Soon the senatorial class, was being courted and wooed by the various fractions, and shortly thereafter the leadership of these groups had been suborned by the very people they had thought to control.-The Senators.
The end of 531 AD saw Emperor Justinian in a tight spot. He was in the process of negotiating a peace treaty with the Persian, and having to raise taxes at the same time. The proposed peace treaty was not altogether popular amongst the Polis (people) and the raising of taxes was hitting the aristocracy pretty hard, not to mention they were being marginalized by the Emperor. This situation had simmered for most of the year.
On January 13 532 AD Justinian opened up the Hippodrome for racing. The Hippodrome was attached to the Royal Palace and the Emperor had a secure passageway to his box where he could oversee the racing. As the races kicked off, a riot broke out between the Blues and the Greens. The Blues were quasi allies supported by the Emperor, so long as their goals and political aspirations were seen to, and the Greens were in the pockets of the Senators. The Green party quickly gained the upper hand over the Blues. They then held forth a new Emperor, the nephew of the old Emperor Anastasius I a simpleton named Hypatius. The Greens then began an assault upon the royal palace which lasted for five days.
The mob of militant charioteer fans, spurred on by their Senatorial masters all but won the day. At one point it looked like the mob was going to actually break in and kill the Emperor and his Empress. Justinian urged his wife to take safe passage out of the palace and cross the Golden Horn to safety in Asia. She replied, by quoting an ancient Roman saying, "Royalty makes a fine burial shroud."
Through treachery, adroit political maneuvering and the liberal application of bribes the Emperor Justinian was able to convince the Blues, to fight their way clear of the Greens and leave the Hippodrome; where both fractions had been using it as a sort of base of operations. As they did, the Army led by General Belasarius, entered. It was estimated that in the end, 30,000 Green supporters along with Hypatius and a large number of Senators were slaughtered. It took several weeks to drag the bodies out and dispose of them.
The modern day lesson... Our country is prostate and weak. Our mobs, have been suborned by the very people they hoped to influence. I am thinking of the Occupy folks having lost their will and having their messages scattered to the winds, or to mangle William Shakespeare, "A tale told by idiots full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." And the total suborning of the Tea Party by the monied elite, who pursue their divisive tactics of using racist attacks and the fear of a white minority loosing their grip on political power.
America has been easily divided by the colors Red and Blue. Or maybe it is Blue and Green? In either case, It is interesting to think on my friend John's argument over how civilized we are. My question for my American readers is: Are you a Blue, Green? Or are you able to transcend the mob mentality, think for yourself and decide you are an American first?