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Come finiscono le pandemie – L’INDISCRETO


Su L’Indiscreto un articolo che scava nella Storia le ondate di pandemia che si sono succedute, magari non sono tutte perché qualcosa ci è sicuramente sfuggito nell’abisso del tempo, però è sufficiente per dare un respiro storico a ciò che ci è capitato in questi ultimi mesi. Un estratto:

Quando tutto questo sarà finito è la frase che abbiamo detto o sentito dire più volte, da quando tutto questo è iniziato. Ma per l’esattezza, quando è che tutto questo sarà finito? La scienza è categorica: vaccino, o immunità di gregge. Il primo, un giorno sembra tutto sommato a portata di mano, quello dopo, una prospettiva utopica il cui orizzonte è da valutarsi in decenni. La seconda, beh, per arrivarci in tempi brevi, dovremmo passare prima per un’ecatombe.

In realtà altre possibilità esistono, meno drastiche: la mutazione del virus in senso meno aggressivo, per esempio, come nel caso della Spagnola; o la messa a punto di farmaci molto efficaci per curare, se prevenire resta impossibile, com’è successo per l’Hiv. Ma c’è anche qualcosa di completamente diverso. Per scoprirlo però, facciamo qualche passo indietro. Perché se questa è la prima pandemia del millennio, non è certo la prima della storia. Come sono finite, le altre?

L’ultimo discorso di Costantino XI – TRIBUNUS


Il 29 maggio del 1453 cade Costantinopoli, l’ultimo baluardo di Roma – anche se la caduta finale è a Trebisonda, ultimo avamposto bizantino dotato di un suo Protettorato, non sotto il regno dell’imperatore bizantino, nel 1462. Qui è disponibile il discorso finale che l’imperatore legittimo Costantino XI fece il 28 maggio, la sera, poche ore prima della disfatta.

Dopo più di 2.200 anni, il nome di Roma cadde definitivamente e fu consegnato alla Storia. Nel sangue, ovviamente, come tutti gli eventi salienti di quell’impero.

“Nobilissimi capitani, illustri demarchi e generali, valorosi commilitoni e tutti voi miei onorevoli e fedeli sudditi!

Sapete bene che l’ora è giunta: il nemico della nostra fede vorrebbe opprimerci ancora più crudelmente dalla terra e dal mare con ogni mezzo a sua disposizione, per paralizzarci se potrà, come un serpente in procinto di sputare veleno; ha fretta di divorarci, come un leone selvaggio.

Per questa ragione vi scongiuro di combattere da uomini con cuori coraggiosi, come avete già fatto fino ad oggi, i nemici della nostra fede.
Io affido nelle vostre mani questa illustre e rinomata città, Regina delle Città e vostra patria.

Sapete bene, fratelli, che condividiamo quattro ragioni per le quali preferiamo la morte alla sopravvivenza: primo, la nostra fede e devozione; secondo, la nostra patria; terzo, l’imperatore, unto dal Signore; e quarto, i nostri parenti e amici.
Bene, fratelli, se dobbiamo combattere per una di queste ragioni, sarà ancora più degno morire per tutte e quattro.

Se Dio concederà la vittoria agli infedeli a causa dei miei peccati, metteremmo a rischio le nostre vite per la santa fede, che Cristo ci ha donato con il suo sangue. Questa è la causa più importante per la quale combattere. Quale profitto c’è nel guadagnare l’intero mondo e nel perdere la propria anima?
In secondo luogo, saremmo privati di una così rinomata patria, insieme alla nostra libertà.
Terzo, perderemmo un impero una volta conosciuto ma oggi umiliato, piccolo ed esausto, e sarebbe governato da tiranno e un uomo empio.
Quarto, saremmo separati dai nostri carissimi figli, mogli, parenti…”.

Happy birthday, Roma! – FOLLOWING HADRIAN


Oggi è il compleanno di Roma – 2.773 anni di splendore storico, anche se in realtà Roma era già Roma prima ancora di essere stata fondata, come ha appurato l’archeologia (grazie, Andrea Carandini). Su FollowingHadrian, quindi, un post celebrativo e alcune altre nozioni che riguardano la festa di Roma collocato nel periodo adrianeo. Un estratto (in inglese).

Rome has its origins on the Palatine. According to the myth, the Palatine Hill was the location of the cave, known as the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa that kept them alive. Archaeologists have traced evidence of hut villages on the western edge of the Palatine Hill dating back to between the 9th and 7th century BC, approximating the time when the city of Rome was founded.

The ancient Romans celebrated the founding of their city every April 21 during the festival of Palilia. This festival was originally aimed at cleansing both sheep and shepherds in honour of Pales, the goddess of shepherds, but was later associated with the founding of Rome. The connection between these two characters of the festival is evident as the founders of the city, Romulus and Remus, grew up to be shepherds like their adoptive father, Faustulus.

The Imperial Roman Armies defeat the Goths – The last phase of the Gothic War in Italy – Novo Scriptorium


Su NovoScriptorium la fase finale della guerra bizantina in Italia contro i Goti, voluta da Giustiniano I di Costantinopoli, prima sotto il comande del generale Belisario e poi sotto Narsete. Qui la prima parte, qui sotto un estratto – in inglese:

When the generals of Justinian marched against him, to finish the war by the capture of Verona and Pavia, he won over them the first victory that the Goths had obtained since their enemies landed in Italy. This was followed by two more successes; the scattered armies of Witiges rallied round the banner of the new king, and at once the cities of Central and Southern Italy began to fall back into Gothic hands, with the same rapidity with which they had yielded to Belisarius. The fact was, that the war had been a cruel strain on the Italians, and that the imperial governors, and still more their fiscal agents, or “logothetes”, had become unbearably oppressive. Italy had lived through the fit of enthusiasm with which it had received the armies of Justinian, and was now regretting the days of Theodoric as a long-lost golden age. Most of its cities were soon in Baduila’s hands; the lmperialists retained only the districts round Rome, Naples, Otranto, and Ravenna. Of Naples they were soon deprived. [A.D. 543.] Baduila invested it, and ere long constrained it to surrender. He treated the inhabitants with a kindness and consideration which no Roman general, except Belisarius, had ever displayed. A speech  which he delivered to his generals soon after this success deserves a record, as showing the character of the man. A Gothic warrior had been convicted of violating the daughter of a Roman. Baduila condemned him to death. His officers came round him to plead for the soldier’s life. He answered them that they must choose that day whether they preferred to save one man’s life or the life of the Gothic race. At the beginning of the war, as they knew well, the Goths had brave soldiers, famous generals, countless treasure, horses, weapons, and all the forts of Italy. And yet under Theodahat—a man who loved gold better than justice—they had so angered God by their unrighteous lives, that all the troubles of the last ten years had come upon them. Now God seemed to have avenged Himself on them enough. He had begun a new course with them, and they must begin a new course with Him, and justice was the only path. As for the present criminal being a valiant hero, let them know that the unjust man and the ravisher was never brave in fight; but that according to a man’s life, such was his luck in battle.

Such was the justice of Baduila; and it seemed as if his dream was about to come true, and that the regenerate Goths would win back all that they had lost. Ere long he was at the gates of Rome, prepared to essay, with 15,000 men, what Witiges had failed to do with 100,000. Lest all his Italian conquests should be lost, Justinian was obliged to send back Belisarius, for no one else could hold back the Goths. But Belisarius was ill-supplied with men; he had fallen into disfavour at Court, and the imperial ministers stinted him of troops and money. Unable to relieve Rome, he had to wait at Portus, by the mouth of the Tiber, watching for a chance to enter the city. That chance he never got. The famine-stricken Romans, angry with the cruel and avaricious Bessas, who commanded the garrison, began to long for the victory of their enemy; and one night some traitors opened the Asinarian Gate, and let in Baduila and his Goths. The King thought that his troubles were over; he assembled his chiefs, and bade them observe how, in the time of Witiges, 7,000 Imperial soldiers* had conquered, and robbed of kingdom and liberty, 100,000 well-armed Goths. But now that they were few, poor, and wretched, the Goths had conquered more than 20,000 of the enemy. And why ? Because of old they looked to anything rather than justice: they had sinned against each other and the Romans. Therefore they must choose henceforth, and be just men and have God with them, or unjust and have God against them.

Baduila had determined to do that which no general since Hannibal had contemplated: he would destroy Rome, and with it all the traditions of the world-empire of the ancient city—to him they seemed but snares, tending to corrupt the mind of the Goths. The people he sent away unharmed—they were but a few thousand left after the horrors of the famine during the siege. But he broke down the walls, and dismantled the palaces and arsenals. For a few weeks Rome was a deserted city, given up to the wolf and the owl [A.D. 550].

For eleven unquiet years, Baduila, the brave and just, ruled Italy, holding his own against Belisarius, till the great general was called home by some wretched court intrigue. But presently Justinian gathered another army, more numerous than any that Belisarius had led, and sent it to Italy, under the command of the eunuch Narses. It was a strange choice that made the chamberlain into a general; but it succeeded. Narses marched round the head of the Adriatic, and invaded Italy from the north. Baduila went forth to meet him at Tagina, in the Apennines. For a long day the Ostrogothic knights rode again and again into the Imperialist ranks; but all their furious charges failed. At evening they reeled back broken, and their king received a mortal wound in the flight [A.D. 553].

Flavius Belisarius: The African campaign – The first Italian campaign – Novo Scriptorium


Su NovoScripitorium un lungo articolo che dettaglia la campagna militare di Belisario, generale di Giustiniano I.

Justinian declared war on King Gelimer the moment that he had made peace with Persia, using as his casus belli, not a definite re-assertion of the claim of the empire over Africa—for such language would have provoked the rulers of Italy and Spain to join the Vandals, but the fact that Gelimer had wrongfully deposed Hilderic, the Emperor’s ally. In July, 533, Belisarius, who was now at the height of his favour for his successful suppression of the “Nika” rioters, sailed from the Bosphorus with an army of 10,000 foot and 5,000 horse. He was accompanied, luckily for history, by his secretary, Procopius, a very capable writer, who has left a full account of his master’s campaigns. Belisarius landed at Tripoli, at the extreme eastern limit of the Vandal power. The town was at once betrayed to him by its Roman inhabitants. From thence he advanced cautiously along the coast, meeting with no opposition; for the incapable Gelimer had been caught unprepared, and was still engaged in calling in his scattered warriors. It was not till he had approached within ten miles of Carthage that Belisarius was attacked by the Vandals. After a hard struggle he defeated them, and the city fell into his hands next day. The provincials were delighted at the rout of their masters, and welcomed the imperial army with joy; there was neither riot nor pillage, and Carthage had not the aspect of a conquered town.

The triumphal entry of Belisarius into Constantinople with his captives and his spoils, encouraged Justinian to order instant preparations for an attack on the second German kingdom, on his western frontier. He declared war on the wretched King Theodahat in the summer of A.D. 435, using as his pretext the murder of Queen Amalasuntha, whom her ungrateful spouse had first imprisoned and then strangled within a year of their marriage. The king of the Goths, whether he was conscience-stricken or merely cowardly, showed the greatest terror at the declaration of war. He even wrote to Constantinople offering to resign his crown, if the Emperor would guarantee his life and his private property. Meanwhile he consulted sooth-sayers and magicians about his prospects, for he was as superstitious as he was incompetent.

Next spring King Witiges came down with the main army of the Goths—more than 100,000 strong—and laid siege to Rome. The defence of the town by Belisarius and his very inadequate garrison forms the most interesting episode in the Italian war. For more than a year the Ostrogoths lay before its walls, essaying every device to force an entry. They tried open storm; they endeavoured to bribe traitors within the city; they strove to creep along the bed of a disused aqueduct, as Belisarius had done a year before at Naples. All was in vain, though the besiegers outnumbered the garrison twenty-fold, and exposed their lives with the same recklessness that their ancestors had shown in the invasion of the empire a hundred years back. The scene best remembered in the siege was the simultaneous assault on five points in the wall, on the 21st of March, 537. Three of the attacks were beaten back with ease; but near the Praenestine Gate, at the south-east of the city, one storming party actually forced its way within the walls, and had to be beaten out by sheer hard fighting ; and at the mausoleum of Hadrian, on the north-west, another spirited combat took place. Hadrian’s tomb—a great quadrangular structure of white marble, 300 feet square and 85 feet high—was surmounted by one of the most magnificent collections of statuary in ancient Rome, including four great equestrian statues of emperors at its corners. The Goths, with their ladders, swarmed at the foot of the tomb in such numbers, that the arrows and darts of the defenders were insufficient to beat them back. Then, as a last resource, the Imperialists tore down the scores of statues which adorned the mausoleum, and crushed the mass of assailants beneath a rain of marble fragments. Two famous antiques, that form the pride of modern galleries—the “Dancing Faun” at Florence, and the “Barberini Faun” at Munich—were found, a thousand years later, buried in the ditch of the tomb of Hadrian, and must have been among the missiles employed against the Goths. Thorough usage which they then received proved the means of preserving them for the admiration of the modern world.

The Manliness of War in the Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) Empire – Novo Scriptorium


Su NovoScriptorium un lungo post – in inglese, obviously – che tratteggia lo sviluppo storico degli eserciti romani e bizantini rispettivamente nel tardo impero e nei primi secoli ancora romani dell’Impero d’Oriente. Tutto ciò è messo in relazione col concetto di virilità e mascolinità vigente allora nelle file delle armate imperiali. Un estratto:

By the second and the third centuries, however, Roman men’s military roles were being redefined. What scholars call the crisis of the third century played a part in this transformation. The twofold threats of external invasions and crippling civil wars ignited by rival claimants to the purple, challenged the Empire’s military capabilities and created the necessity for reform. Establishing control over the frequently rebellious Roman forces represented a key step in quashing this chaos. Those in power entrusted the states’ defence to a professional army of mixed descent that fought its battles mostly on the Empire’s outer fringes. The imperial authorities also sought to curtail the threat presented by mutinous regional military commanders.

The Emperor Diocletian (ruled 284-305), carved the provinces into smaller more manageable administrative units and increased the number of imperial leaders, first to two then to four. In a further effort to curb the threat of usurpation and create a more effective fighting force, the “senatorial amateurs”, who had often used their military commissions merely as an obligatory step in their political careers, were no longer required to fulfil their military duties. Sometime during Diocletian’s reign, serving in the army became hereditary, and the sons of soldiers and veterans were obligated to follow their fathers’ example. Though not strictly enforced, a law from 364 (Codex Theodosianus 15.15) forbade all Roman civilians the use of weapons.

Even though men from the upper classes continued to serve as officers and provide a vital reserve of civil and military leadership upon whom the government could call in time of crisis, many wealthy aristocrats chose instead to pursue comfortable lives in one of the Empire’s major cities or on their provincial estates. In the fourth century, “elite” citizens’ roles in the military decreased even further, and to meet its recruitment needs the army, at times, depended on the enrolment of foreign troops.

While it is notoriously difficult to determine with any certainty either the size of the Late Roman/Early Byzantine army or the percentage of Romans serving compared to non-Romans –particularly within the non-officer corps– the foreign component was never as high as some historians suggest. The majority of soldiers throughout the Byzantine period were “Roman”.

Estimates vary on the Late Roman and Early Byzantine armies’ exact numbers. Recent suggestions for approximately 500,000 as the total for the combined forces of the fourth-century army and 300,000 for the sixth-century Byzantine forces—including frontier troops, fleet, and the field army—seem reasonable (Whitby, “Emperors and Armies”, W. Treadgold, “Byzantium and Its Army”). Whatever the exact tallies, we are dealing with a significant number of eligible Romans serving in the military. The non-Roman element in the Eastern Roman army in positions of command held steady at less than a third during the fourth and the fifth centuries. After the fifth century, the foreign component of the Byzantine army declined to perhaps a fifth of the overall total. This shift was due to a combination of legislative efforts to monitor recruitment and financial reforms undertaken during the reign of Anastasius I, which made military service much more attractive. Indeed, conscription which had been prevalent in the fourth century, by the close of the fifth century had been abandoned.

The idea of the emperor as the embodiment of Roman martial prowess and idealised manliness in the Later Empire was ubiquitous. The relationship between masculinity, military virtues, and the emperors’ divine right to rule were never far beneath the surface of this imagery. By concentrating notions of heroic masculinity into the figure of the emperor, imperial ideology fashioned a portrait of the ideal emperor as a model of “true” manliness for all aspiring men to emulate. This paradigm reflected the increasing domination of state ideology by the imperial family and its direct supporters, and it helps to highlight the Later Roman emperors’ growing autocratic power. Though far from a move towards the “Oriental despotism” argued for in the older historiographical tradition, the reigns of Diocletian and his successors witnessed the growth of a more elaborate court ceremonial, along with an increased promotion of the emperor in literary and visual portrayals as an authority reliant predominantly upon divine assistance (at first that of pagan divinities, and then the Christian God) for his clout.

Famous Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) physicians – Novo Scriptorium


Su NovoScriptorium un articolo che illustra la grande capacità organizzativa bizantina della Sanità, dagli ospedali ai servizi sanitari e a tutto ciò che è collegato col concetto di Salute, concetti che sono stati sviluppati nei nostri giorni e che sono alla base del moderno Sistema Sanitario.

The Byzantine Empire lasted for over 1100 years and the organization of a functional health care system was undeniable merit of Byzantine medicine.

In Byzantium, hospitals functioned near monasteries. The administrative head of the entire institution was called the nosocomos. Two doctors and a lot of assistants, who learned, not helped, were working in each section.

Women were cared for by a woman doctor, and at night there was a service call.

Two inspectors were visiting the hospital day and night inquiring whether patients are satisfied or have any complaint to make.

Each hospital had a dispensary in which worked two doctors and a number of assistants.

There were specialized hospitals – e.g. hospital doctors in Mangane dealt exclusively with diseases of the digestive tract.

Nurses were instructed on the spot and formed health care professionals’ associations.

Doctors were trained in two ways, individually or in groups ie in school.

Generally, medical profession was transmitted from father to son.

Medical schools were established around hospitals and one of the doctors acted as a teacher. Students were practicing in hospitals or clinics. Education was free. Teachers were chosen very carefully and students had to accumulate a lot of experience before start practicing as physicians. This period of training was called kronia.

After the training, the student had to pass proficiency exam and answer question of a maestro, the head of the school or the emperor’s physician, bearing the title of actuarios.

The candidate who passed the examination received as a sign of promotion a medal or badge to distinguish himself from impostors.

Medical practice was based on the theory of the four humors.

In therapy, Byzantine physicians used, along with the old remedies, new exotic ones, made from the three regna. An important role was played by diet recommendations. There were used curative and preventive diets, but there were also exaggeration. Doctors used to recommend to their patients diets according to different seasons, months, professions or social class.

In order to master these diets and astrological data, doctors had to read a lot and collect many books. So, they had copies of classical medicine textbooks and many copybooks of diets and complicate recipes.

Hospitals sheltered vast libraries with valuable medical works.

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