This book is long! My notes on the book were over 10K words long, so I decided to pare it down to my favorite part here. So here we go…
First off, I love the way Durant describes ancient life. It’s like he was there! Reading his description of ancient Italy reminds me of California. The only note I had today was that and about the Catholic ideas about hell sound like they came from Etruscan theology. The things that Dante describes in “Inferno” are not in the Bible but seem to be a part of our religion now.
Chapter 2 – The Struggle for Democracy
“We may believe that they were composed of clans that through economic or military superiority had acquired the best lands, and had transformed their agricultural leadership into political mastery.” Sounds like George Washington!
“In 439 Spurius Maelius, who during a famine had distributed wheat to the poor at a low price or free, was slain in his home by an emissary of the Senate, again on the charge of plotting to be king.” Politicians today spend their whole careers telling the people that they will give them free things. They are lying. They do things to make it look like they are giving you things but really they are cementing their power in government by making false promises to the ignorant. It is always a power play.
Page 24 “they stirred up war after war, that the people might be too occupied to agitate about the land” Now THAT sounds like a familiar tactic, but to what ends? To keep power in one place?
Chapter3 – Hannibal Against Rome
Page 41 – “Polybius reported that “at Carthage nothing that results in profit is regarded as disgraceful.” Sounds like Star Trek’s Ferengi!
“The Carthaginians appear at their worst in their religion, which again we know only from their enemies.” Yes. That’s the problem with a lot of ancient history, and history in general. The winners tend to destroy the losers and we have little first hand accounts of a population or culture. “we have no native account of Carthage’s history.”
Page 50 – Hannibal took Italy but knew he didn’t have enough of an army to keep it, so he released prisoners and told them he had come to set Italy free from Rome. Clever move! Most of the people would help him take over their own country! Hannibal’s generalship “set the lines of military tactics for two thousand years.”
Page 51 – When Rome was threatened fighting amongst themselves ceased and they came together to fight a common enemy. It’s amazing what a group of people will do in a perceived crisis. And it’s amazing that you can pretty much predict what will happen. Politicians have been using this for long time.
Page 52 “the Senate was willing to stretch the constitution to save the state” of course they are!
Page 54 “The Second Punic War…weakened democracy by showing that a popular assembly cannot wisely choose generals or direct a war.” Yep. You need a dictator for that. It’s why we have (at first) had chosen to stay out of other people’s wars. Our government is not set up for empire.
Chapter 4 – Stoic Rome
Other stuff. “Pomona” god of orchards…Pomona, CA was full of orchards when it became a town.
June is the month of weddings because of Juno, goddess of womanhood and maternity.
Mars = the earth. Most of the Roman gods were adopted from the Greeks and other cultures, some by war, but most by commercial, military, and cultural contact.
And here’s something I really don’t like that we do today. Page 67 – “It…fused the state into such intimate union with the gods that piety and patriotism became one,” This is something Christians do now and it makes me crazy. And atheists have created a new god called ‘the state’. To disagree with government is to disagree with god. No. I don’t think so. Government = humans, not gods.
Here’s a cool thought “The year itself was called annus, ring; as if to say that in reality there is no beginning and no end.”
Reading about the morals of the people and the patriarchal society. I wonder if any of these rules on women would change if they had a matriarchal society. I mean, most of the rules are to protect a male’s offspring because he can be mistaken about his wife’s child’s father. If we went by women passing down property and family name, that wouldn’t be an issue, right? Why, I wonder, do most society’s rely on the male?
Page 83 – “War was the most dramatic feature of a Roman’s life, but it did not play so absorbing a role as in the pages of Rome’s historians. Perhaps even more than with us his existence centered about his family and his home. News reached him when it was old, so that his passions could not be stirred every day by the gathered turmoil of the world. The great events of his career were not politics and war, but anxious births, festal marriages, and somber deaths.” The internet brings us almost instant news from around the world. In some ways it is pretty wonderful. But it widens our sphere of influence…or does it. Can we really influence what is happening on the other side of the world, or even the other side of our country? Does it just bring more to our attention and leave us feeling unable to do anything? Focusing on our immediate surroundings and what we can each do there is probably a better use of our time.
Chapter 5 – The Greek Conquest
Page 91 – Here’s one to chew on! “The principle of democracy is freedom, the principle of war is discipline; each requires the absence of the other.”
Page 93 – “but as every multitude is fickle, full of lawless desires, unreasoned passion, and violent anger, it must be held in by invisible terrors and religious pageantry.” I guess this is nothing new either. I don’t agree with this sentiment about the people in general at all. If it is true, then why would our “leaders” be any different? Do they change when we elect them, or if they are born into a ruling family?
Page 96 – A note from the side margin, Is philosophy the opposite of religion? Or can they coexist?
Page 99 – “Any citizen who became an actor forfeited his civic rights” Wow! That really shows you something. Actors today should lose their voting rights! And they shouldn’t be allowed to give their opinion about politics either! There were laws about making Roman life look bad, so playwrights would take Greek satire that reflected their own times, and leave them exactly the way they were so that it didn’t look like you were talking about Rome.
Page 102 – Cato! There were conservatives in Roman times as well, those that wanted to return to the old ways of farm and working hard for what you got.
Book II The Revolution
Chapter 6 – The Agrarian Revolt
Import of cheap/slave labor, displacing of workers and farmers for large corporate farms….nothing new under the sun. “the peasant himself, after he had seen and looted the world as a soldier, had no taste or patience for the lonely labor and unadventurous chores of the farm; he preferred to join the turbulent proletariat of the city, watch without cost the exciting games of the amphitheater, receive cheap corn from the government, sell his vote to the highest bidder or promiser, and lose himself in the impoverished and indiscriminate mass.” That sounds very familiar as well.
Page 119 – “the dictatorship of a popular leader backed by a devoted army seemed to many weary Romans the only alternative to the oligarchic abuses of liberty.” Hm…
Chapter 7 – The Oligarchic Reaction
Page 129 “He should have said ‘no man of means’; for ‘without money and a good lawyer’, said another advocate at this period, ‘a plain, simple defendant may be accused of any crime which he has not committed, and will certainly be convicted.” That’s my experience today. If there is anything to go into heavy debt for, it is a good lawyer.
Page 142 “But far more deeply he feared those radical leaders whose program, he thought, threatened all property with mob rule.” “Many of the poor were listening to preachers of utopia, and some who listened were ripe from violence.” These are the socialists today flooding social media.
Chapter 8 – Literature Under the Revolution
Page 152 Lucretius rejects the romantic anthropology and glorifying primitive life. Sheesh! People did that back then too?! It’s like reading articles online today. We’re still arguing the same points and doing the same thing. You’d think we would have learned SOMETHING in the last 2000 years!
Page 152 This is a long quote but it’s something I was just thinking about with a friend yesterday. “All things that grow decay: organs, organisms, families, states, races, planets, stars; only the atoms never die. The forces of creation and development are balanced by the forces of destruction in a vast diastole and systole of life and death.” Isn’t that the truth?
Page 154 Lucretius was lost to the world until someone rediscovered him 1400 years later. Just imagine that. You spend your whole life studying and writing, probably thinking no one is listening or even cares. You die. Your work is lost but you don’t know it. 1400 years later someone finds it, reads it, and shares it with the world. 600 years after that, people are still talking about it. Crazy.
Page 160 Here’s another one straight from a Facebook post, “He (Crispus) exposed the moral decay of Rome, charged the Senate and the courts with placing property rights above human right,”
Page 164 “(Cicero) rejects the atomism of Democritus and Lucretius; it is as unlikely that unguided atoms – even in infinite time – could fall into the order of the existing world as that the letters of the alphabet should spontaneously form the Annales of Ennius. Our ignorance of the gods is no guarantee of their nonexistence”
Page 165 “The best form of government is a mixed constitution, like that of pre-Gracchan Rome: the democratic power of the assemblies, the aristocratic power of the Senate, the almost royal power of the consuls for a year. Without checks and balances monarchy becomes despotism, aristocracy becomes oligarchy, democracy becomes mob rule, chaos, and dictatorship.” When I read about Cicero and other Roman writers, I see the early forms of our own government. I wonder how many citizens know anything at all about how our government was created, why, and how it was supposed to be run, and how far from that ideal we have strayed. If you’re going to promote a change, shouldn’t you know the details of the original first?
Page 168 “Age as well as youth has its glories – a tolerant wisdom, the respectful affection of children, desire and ambition’s fever cooled. Age may fear death, but not if the mind has been formed by philosophy. Beyond the grave there will be, at the best, a new and happier life; and at the worst there will be peace.” See? Now that is wisdom. And it’s the same thousands of years later.
Chapter 9 – Caesar
Page 171 The “populares” elected Caesar because he gave them food and land. Caesar’s bills “combined an agrarian policy with a financial program pleasing to the business class.”
Page 176 “Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls after the usual bribery, and Caesar returned to the task of persuading the Gauls that peace is sweeter than freedom.” Hey! So that’s not new to our generation either?!
Page 180 “A century of revolution had broken down a selfish and narrow aristocracy, but had put no other government in its place. Unemployment, bribery, bread and circuses had corrupted the Assembly into an ill-informed and passion-ridden mob obviously incapable of ruling itself, much less an empire. Democracy had fallen by Plato’s formula: liberty had become license, and chaos begged an end to liberty.”
Page 191 Caesar “Like other dictators he sought to base his power upon popularity with the people.” At first glance you would think this would be a good thing, right? The people should be ruled the way they wish to be ruled, right? But it turns ugly pretty fast. “The people” love one person one day and another the next, especially the poor, uneducated, and without principles.
Page 193 Julius Caesar sounds like a nice enough guy. Fixed the calendar, started festivals, fed the poor, religiously tolerant…
Page 198 The assassination of Caesar “was a tragedy also in the sense that probably both parties were right: the conspirators in thinking that Caesar meditated monarchy, Caesar in thinking that disorder and empire had made monarchy inevitable.”
Chapter 11 – Augustan Statesmanship
Page 211 “Morals, which had been loosened by riches and luxury, had not been improved by destitution and chaos, for few conditions are more demoralizing than poverty that comes after wealth.”
Page 212 “They were no longer enamored of freedom, but wearily wished for security and order; any man might rule them who guaranteed them games and bread.”
Page 213 “As the army remained for the most part outside the capital and usually outside of Italy, the citizens could forget, while they went through all the forms of the dead Republic, that they were living under a military monarchy in which force was hidden so long as phrases could rule.”
Page 219 “Augustus was convinced, as became the grandson of a banker, that the best economy was one that united freedom with security. He protected all classes with well-administered laws, guarded the highways of trade, lent money without interest to responsible land-owners, and mollified the poor with state grain, lotteries, and occasional gifts; for the rest he left enterprise, production, and exchange freer than before.” The ebb and flow of freedom, but eventually the shore changes.
Chapter 12 – The Golden Age
Page 233 “If peace and security are more favorable than war to the production of literature and art, yet war and profound social disturbances turn up the earth about the plants of thought and nourish the seeds that mature in peace.”
Page 234 “Augustus followed a liberal policy toward literature; he was glad to have letters and art take up the energies that had disturbed politics; he would pay men to write books it they would let him govern the state.”
Page 242 Virgil does “resent the death of the Republic; he knows that class war, not Caesar, killed it”
Page 245 Here’s an awesome one from Horace “He reminds the laudator temporis acti – the “praiser of times past” – that “if some god were for taking you back to those days you would refuse every time”; the chief charm of the past is that we know we need not live it again.” I wish more people really believed this. Right now it seems most people would prefer to go back in time because they really have no idea what it was like.
Page 249 Horace on how to write, “The ideal book is that which at the same time instructs and entertains; “he who has mingled the useful with the pleasant wins every vote”.”
and “to the poet everything should be a miracle, even when, like the sunrise or a tree, it greets him every day.”
Chapter 13 – The Other Side of Monarchy
Page 262 14AD, “if you see something, say something” Rome had no police or prosecutor, so people were encouraged to bring suits to court by promising that they would get some of the convicted person’s goods. Yikes!
Page 263 “A senate of real Romans would soon have overthrown him; but the Senate had, with many exceptions, become an epicure’s club too listless to wield competently even the authority that Tiberius had urged it to retain.” You can “elect” all you want, but if that elected official comes from the same pool of ignorance and laziness as the rest of the public…they are just people as ourselves after all.
Page 281 Nero using Christians as a scapegoat for political/economic problems. I guess that isn’t new either?! Are your political solutions and antics causing problems for you? The people aren’t buying it and want to throw you out for someone else to rule over them? Just find one faction of new or unknown people, blame it on them, and direct people to wipe them out…problem solved!
Page 287 Ooooo….public education…Vespasian “Perhaps the old skeptic felt that teachers had some share in forming public opinion and would speak better of a government that paid their way.” Holy crud…and this one “When an inventor showed him plans for a hoisting machine that would greatly reduce the need for human labor in these enterprises of removal and construction, he refused it, saying, “I must feed my poor.” Yikes!
Chapter 14 – The Silver Age
Page 295 “Tradition is the voice of time, and time is the medium of selection; a cautious mind will respect their verdict, for only youth knows better than twenty centuries.” How’s that for an opening to a chapter?!
Page 299 “Parents sent their sons, and themselves often went, to hear the lectures of men who offered to provide a rational code of civilized conduct, or a formal dress for naked desire. Those who could afford it paid philosophers to live with them, …” How awesome would THAT be?!
Page 303 Seneca “I persist in praising not the life that I lead, but that which I ought to lead. I follow it at a mighty distance, crawling.” This one would make a great Facebook post.
Page 304 “The first lesson of philosophy is that we cannot be wise about everything.” Don’t I know it!
Page 305 “Philosophy is the science of wisdom, and wisdom is the art of living. Happiness is the goal, but virtue, not pleasure, is the road.” Wow.
Page 307 Seneca “There are few original ideas in him; but that may be forgiven, for in philosophy all truth is old, and only error is original.”
Page 301 Another example of “nothing new under the sun” which seems to be the theme I’m getting while I read this book, Pliny. “life of animals preferable to humans” “invention of money fatal to human happiness” “ death is our supreme boon”. How can one live like that? I’m thinking he was one very unhappy person.
Page 312 Pliny again “Greek physicians who seduce our wives, grow rich by feeding us poisons, learn from our suffering, and experiment by putting us to death”
Page 314 Loads of great stuff from Quintillian but according to him you need to be of a certain class of humans before you can really be educated.
Chapter 15 Rome At Work
Page 319 Looking back at history I’m sure you an see far more cause and effect than you can as you are living through it. Something that we believe is going to be the fall of our civilization could end up changing it for the better and leading it into more than we can imagine.
Page 321 “the wealthiest households were the most self-sufficient, and prided themselves on making the largest part of what they needed. A family was an organization of economic helpmates engaged in the united agriculture and industry of a home.” This is something we could do more like the Romans and it might make things better. Today families split up too often. Children are left to outside help. Parents work to support that. And Grandparents retire from the scene. As soon as children are old enough, they leave the family and start their own separate household. What if we didn’t do that and stayed all together, helping each other?
Page 324 Something I didn’t think was happening in the ancient past, traveling for pleasure and education. It happened a lot among the wealthy in Nero’s time.
Page 327 The aqueducts! Never before and not for a thousand years after did water travel so freely all over the country. Wow!
Page 330 “Italy’s dependence upon imported food was her vital weakness; the moment she could not force other countries to send her food and soldiers she was doomed.” Our country doesn’t have that problem. We can go back to producing so many tons of food and our people are perfectly happy to join up as soldiers and die for their government check.
Page 333 “Exploitation of the weak by the strong is as natural as eating and differs from it only in rapidity; we must expect to find it in every age and under every form of society and government; but rarely has it been so thorough and unsentimental as in ancient Rome.” That’s true but our current solution to this is to bring down the strong instead of encouraging the weak to get stronger. I really don’t think it will work or that it is healthy.
Page 334 “A proposal that slaves be required to wear a distinctive dress was voted down in the Senate lest they should realize their numerical strength.” Wow. Now there is something to think about. There are typically so many more slaves than freemen. Their only weakness is that they don’t know how many of them there are, or educated enough to find their strength. It’s happening today as well. We don’t even know we are slaves.
Page 335 “We are in danger of exaggerating the cruelty of the past for the same reason that we magnify the crime and immorality of the present – because cruelty is interesting by its very rarity.”
Chapter 16 – Rome and Its Art
Page 338 “Barring architects, most artists in Rome were Greek slaves or freedmen or hirelings; nearly all worked with their hands and were classed as artisans; Latin authors seldom thought of recording their lives or their names.”
Page 342 “The Romans of the last century BC were easily deceived in these matters, for, like most nouveaux riches, they tended to value objects according to cost and rarity rather than by beauty and use.” That’s funny.
Chapter 17 – Epicurean Rome
Page 363 Here’s one that really got me. We have a similar thing happening today. “Once the Romans had been precipitated into parentage by the impetus of sex, and lured to it by anxiety for the post-mortem care of their graves; now the upper and middle classes had learned to separate sex from parentage, and were skeptical about the after-world. Once the rearing of children had been an obligation of honor to the state, enforced by public opinion; now it seemed absurd to demand more births in a city crowded to the point of redolence.” I had children because it’s just the natural course of life. My husband and I had something dear we wished to share with a larger family, to pass on to the next generation. It was not religious, it was an overflow of love. And what will this world be with no people in it?
Page 364 This is just sad, “Poor women, says Junenal, endure the perils of childbirth, and all the troubles of nursing…but how often does a gilded bed harbor a pregnant woman? So great is the skill, so powerful the drugs, of the abortionist!” They don’t consider abortion infanticide at the time, or in this book. It is considered more civilized to abort rather than to leave a newborn to an orphanage.
Page 366 Over twenty different nationalities lived in Rome around the birth of Christ. That’s a pretty diverse group of people for ancient times!
Page 367 Holy cow! This is exactly the kind of thing I was just blogging about today. It appears again that nothing is new. Maybe I should just study the fall of Rome to know exactly how to prepare for the next 100 years! “Primary schooling was still entrusted to private enterprise. Rich men often hired tutors for their children, but Quintilian, like Emerson, warned against this as depriving the child of formative friendships and stimulating rivalries. Ordinarily the boy and girl of the free classes entered at the age of seven an elementary school, accompanied each way by a paedagogus (child leader) to guard his safety and his morals.” Further along he talks about the secondary schools being lecture based about history, Latin, Greek, philosophy, etc. Not the rote memorization of facts and figures.
“Since the secondary teachers were nearly always Greek freedmen, they naturally emphasized Greek literature and history; Roman culture took on a Greek tint, until by the end of the second century almost all higher education was given in Greek, and Latin literature was swallowed up in the general Hellenic koine and culture of the age.”
Page 368 “These constituted a “liberal education” – i.e., one designed for a well-to-do freeman, who would presumably have no physical work to perform. Petronius complained, as every generation does, that education unfitted youth for the problems of maturity: ‘The schools are to blame for the gross foolishness of our young men, since in them they see or hear nothing at all of the affairs of everyday life.’” And every generation has people that naturally withdraw from this school system to educate the next generation of people that will keep society going.
Page 387 The gladiator games have been portrayed in movies so much that I see them when described here. Seneca said after watching one “I come home more greedy, more cruel and inhuman, because I have been among human beings.” Is it the same when we portray it in fiction instead of doing it for real?
Page 389 “Many of the mimes ridiculed the gods; one whipped Diana off the stage, another showed Jove making his will in expectation of death.” The Romans had lost their reverence to their Gods. Most religions were tolerated in Rome as long as they “should include in its ritual some obeisance to the emperor’s genius and the goddess Roma, as an expression of loyalty to the state.” Which the Jews and eventually the Christians could not do.
Chapter 18 – Roman Law
I love this note at the bottom, “This chapter will be of no use to lawyers, and of no interest to others.” Should I skip it?
Page 391 “As Greece stands in history for freedom, so Rome stands for order; and as Greece bequeathed democracy and philosophy as the foundations of our individual liberty, so Rome has left us its laws, and its traditions of administration, as the bases of social order.” This goes for the entire west, doesn’t it?
“The Roman constitution was like the British – no set of permanently binding rules, but a stream of precedent giving direction without preventing change.” This is not how our constitution was set up or run for the first one hundred years, but it is how it is interpreted now. I’m not sure it is a positive thing, as it has become a problem today as feelings change so quickly and few are educated enough to see the big picture through their emotions or personal wants.
Page 392 “Not till the Principate (Caesar) had established itself, first by the use of force and then by the force of use, could the new legislation win acceptance in the minds of men as well as in the courts of power.” This is how we think we should run our government as well. Just make a law, punish people severely for breaking it, and then eventually we will all obey.
Page 393 – I love this bit! “As the terminology of science and philosophy comes mostly from Greek, betraying their sources, so the language of law comes mostly from Latin.”
Page 395 – And here is something I was just saying a few days ago, “Law tends to lag behind moral development, not because law cannot learn, but because experience has shown the wisdom of testing new ways in practice before congealing them into law.” Live your life the way you believe it should be, live by example, others will adopt your ways when they see the benefit, the law will follow.
Page 405 – “Roman law was the logic and economy of force;” “The were natural, but only in the sense that it is natural for the strong to use and abuse the weak.” A sad but true statement and there is no law that will stop that. The only thing we can do is to encourage the weak to become strong as well. Currently, we are trying to stop the strong from being strong, lowering them to meet the weak. That’s how we “level the playing field.”
Chapter 19 – The Philosopher Kings
Page 409 – Trajan “He asked the Senate’s opinion on all matters of moment, and discovered that he might wield nearly absolute power if he never used absolute speech. The Senate was willing to let him rule if he would observe the forms that maintained its dignity and prestige; like the rest of Rome, it now loved security too much to be capable of freedom.” This one sent chills. How can we be so similar to this situation? “Many of the Eastern cities had mismanaged their finances to the point of bankruptcy, and Trajan sent curatores like the younger Pliny to help and check them. The procedure weakened municipal independence and institutions, but it was unavoidable; self-government, by extravagance and incompetence, had brought its own end.” That’s what Ben Franklin meant by “if we can keep it.”
Page 426 Marcus Aurelius grateful to his brother Severus “from him I received the idea of a state in which there is the same law for all, a polity of equal rights and freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government that most of all respects the freedom of the governed.” But a government is needed to be sure people are doing what they should be doing, but who decides what that is?
Page 427 “he was a conservative; radicals do not grow up in palaces.” And how about this one, “Who can change the opinions of men? And without a change of sentiments what can you make but reluctant slaves and hypocrites?” That is what you will get if you just ban or make laws against what one group of people says is wrong and the other says is right. That’s what most people want our government to do now, since none have enough education in government, history, philosophy, or economics to know better.
Chapter 20 – Life and Thought in the Second Century
Page 436 Tacitus “In the end, he thinks, character is more important than government; what makes a people great is not its laws but its men.”
Page 438 Juvenal “He scorns the plebs that once ruled armies and unmade kings but can now be bought with panem et circenses, bread and circuses;”
“We can understand such a mood; it is pleasant to contemplate the imperfections of our neighbors and the despicable inferiority of the world as compared with our dreams.” I really don’t think it is pleasant, comforting in a negative way maybe but not pleasant. It is depressing to look at the world this way, in my opinion.
Page 439 Seneca “Our forefathers complained, we complain, and our descendants will complain, that morals are corrupt, that wickedness holds sway, that men are sinking deeper and deeper into sinfulness, that the condition of mankind is going from bad to worse.”
Page 443 Marcus Aurelius’ journals. I love reading about history from people’s journals, especially when they aren’t considered “authors”. So much information and insight can be gained from reading what people wrote in passing between daily activities.
Page 445 “He reluctantly concedes that there are bad men in this world. The way to deal with them is to remember that they, too, are men, the helpless victims of their own faults by the determinism of circumstance.” They’re doing the best they can with what they have, forgive them and move on. “Does this seem an impracticable philosophy? On the contrary, nothing is so invincible as a good disposition, if it be sincere. A really good man is immune to misfortune, for whatever evil befalls him leaves him still his own soul.” Exactly! It’s not that bad things won’t happen to you, it’s that you will always deal with them in a positive way that lets the evil wash over and away instead of holding on to it and letting it change you.
Page 449 “Since the prince had almost all the authority, the citizens left him almost all responsibility. More and more of them, even in the aristocracy, retired into their families and their private affairs; citizens became atoms, and society began to fall to pieces internally precisely when unity seemed most complete.” I am beginning to fear this is what we have trained our citizens into as well. We generally feel we have no authority in our government, so we leave it up to those we’ve elected (or not) instead of being involved and keeping power out of their hands.
Book 4 The Empire
Chapter 21 – Italy
Page 458 People of Pompeii scratching “sentiments upon public walls”. Things like “the fisherman have named Popidius Rufus for aedile”, vacancies, public events, missing articles. Can you imagine coming across this for the first time? It must be amazing to stand in front of the very words someone wrote a thousand years ago.
Page 460 “It was a basic feature of the Roman Empire that though divided into provinces it was organized into an assemblage of relatively self-governed city-states each owning an extensive hinterland. Patriotism meant love of one’s city rather than of the Empire.” How else could it be? The empire was so huge and run by so few people. Really they were just paying some tribute to Rome so they would not attack them again. They didn’t become a part of it. I wonder if things would be different now with the technology we have. Do we feel more attached to the wider world?
Chapter 22 – Civilizing the West
Page 465 Carthage circa 150AD, houses six and seven stories high, marble buildings, pubic baths, universities, immorality, human sacrifice.
Page 476 “Agricola, as governor of Britain (AD 78-84), brought civilization to a rude, scattered, and warlike people by establishing schools, spreading the use of Latin, and encouraging cities and rich men to build temples, basilicas, and public baths. By degrees, says the caustic historian, the charms of vice gained admission to British hearts; baths, porticoes, and elegant banquets grew into vogue; and the new manners, which in reality only served to sweeten slavery, were by the unsuspecting Britons called the arts of polished humanity.”
Chapter 23 – Roman Greece
Page 484 Plutarch “Greece has not left us a more precious book.” Most of what we know about ancient Greece comes from Plutarch’s “Lives”
“All deities, he argued, are aspects of one supreme being, timeless, indescribable, so far removed from earthly and temporal affairs that intermediary spirits (diamones) must create and regulate the world.”
Page 486 “It is refreshing to find a philosopher who is wise enough to be happy. Let us be thankful, he counsels us, for the common boons and graces of life, and feel them none the less gladly for their permanence”
Page 491 Epictetus “Philosophy does not mean reading books about wisdom, it means training oneself in the practice of wisdom. The essence of the matter is that a man should so mold his life and conduct that his happiness shall depend as little as possible upon external things.” Now there’s something to live by! He “parallels many attitudes of early Christianity” circa 75AD
Page 497 “The scientific achievements of Pythagoras were forgotten, but his notion of reincarnation was having another life; Neo-Pythagoreans were exploring the mysticism of number, were practicing a daily examination of conscience, and were praying that after a minimum of avatars they might pass- if necessary through Purgatory – into a blessed union with God.” Interesting.
Chapter 24 – The Hellenistic Revival
Page 500 “Museum, or Home of the Muses” Isn’t that awesome? That’s what a museum is. A place to find inspiration.
Page 501 Philo “God, in Philo, is the essential being of the world, incorporeal, eternal, indescribable; reason can know his existence, but can ascribe no quality to him, since every quality is a limitation.” I’ve thought this! We write analogies about what God is and then hold Him to it. Even calling God “him” is a limitation to our own existence.
Page 501 “Philo was a contemporary of Christ; he apparently never heard of him; but he shared unknowingly in forming Christian theology. The rabbis…suspected the Logos doctrine as a retreat from monotheism;” The Logos doctrine was the beginning idea of the holy trinity.
Page 507 “Galen objected that wheras a machine is merely the sum of its parts, an organism implies the purposive control of the parts by the whole.” You can replace a part in a machine and fix it, but living things are more than that.
Page 522 “We cannot know what God is, but we have an innate conviction that he exists, and we feel that philosophy without religion is a dark and hopeless thing. The only real freedom is wisdom – i.e. the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong; the road to freedom lies not through politics or revolution, but through philosophy; and true philosophy consists not in the speculations of books, but in the faithful practice of honor and virtue according to the dictates of that inmost voice which is, in some mystic sense, the word of God in the heart of man.” Dio (AD 40-120)
Page 523 Many rituals of Christian were borrowed from other ancient religions, but that doesn’t diminish the truth in my opinion. It’s only mankind trying to make sense of unearthly stuff.
Page 526 “The desire to return to the mother is stronger than the impulse to depend on upon the father; it is the mother name that comes spontaneously to the lips in great joy or distress; therefore men as well as women found comfort and refuge in Isis and Cybele.” And the Catholics in turn found comfort in Mary.
Chapter 25 Rome & Judea
Page 540 “The hope of salvation from Rome and earthly suffering through the coming of a divine Redeemer rings through nearly all the Jewish literature of this age.” A couple hundred years before Christ. But not earlier? I’d like to study some Jewish history.
Page 545 I wrote in the margin “Is the start of this why getting rid of Jesus was so urgent?” Just about the time Christ was born, the Jews had begun to revolt against the Roman government. Some like the Sadduccees and Pharisees didn’t want the upheaval power. Jesus only riled the people against the government and they knew what would happen if there was a revolt. I can imagine most Jewish leaders (not believing Jesus was the messiah) telling the people they only were trying to protect them from slaughter by the Romans.
Chapter 26 Jesus
Page 556 “Experience suggests, however, that an old tradition must not be too quickly rejected; our ancestors were not all fools.” Why do most people not believe this? When I hear people talk about history they usually refer to old ways as out-dated or irrelevant. I just can’t believe that human civilization was so inept and useless in the past but not now, now that we are so much smarter and enlightened.
Page 562 “Caesar hoped to reform men by changing institutions and laws; Christ wished to remake institutions, and lessen laws, by changing men.” There is a super clear distinction between any secular political movement and a religious and freedom based one.
Page 564 “Kindly and pious women joined the apostles and disciples, contributed to their support, and performed for them those solicitous domestic functions which are the supreme consolation of male life.” I love a woman’s role in this world. Seriously.
Page 570 This is the real reason that the Jewish leaders at the time so feared Jesus. “his enthusiastic reception in Jerusalem seems to have set the Jewish leaders wondering whether this excitement, working upon the emotional and patriotic Passover throngs, might flare up into an untimely and futile revolt against the Roman power, and issue the in the suppression of all self-government and religious freedom in Judea.” Which it eventually did for both Jews and Christians. I wonder if they really believed they were doing what was best for the people at the time.
Chapter 27 – The Apostles
Communism within small groups of believers, which would work in that context as well as the family.
When the diaspora began, Judaism and Christianity parted ways.
Page 595 “Christianity was the last creation of the ancient pagan world.” No, it was the fulfillment of all the old pagan grasps in the dark at what God really is. Jesus is the light on the world that helps us see God.
Page 598 “Abortion and infanticide, which were decimating pagan society, were forbidden to Christians (and Jews) as the equivalents of murder; in many instances Christians rescued exposed infants, baptized them, and brought them up with the aid of the community fund.” Funny how some things never change.
Page 600 “In these centuries marriage was still a civil ceremony; but by adding and requiring her sanction the Church lifted it from the level of a passing contract to the sanctity of an inviolable vow.” Why? This is something we are still trying to work through. I really believe our government should go back to this idea of a contract and people can be “married” that way unless they are of a religion that has special rules but those should be separate from state marriage.
Page 601 I never knew where the fish symbol for Christians came from, “chosen because the Greek word for it, i-ch-th-u-s, formed the initials of the phrase iesous christos theou uios soter – Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.”
Page 606 “It was not that the Greeks and Romans abandoned these faiths, once so lovely or austere; they abandoned rather the will to live, and by excessive family limitation, or physiological exhaustion, or by devastating wars, so reduced their own number that the temples lost their cultivators step by step with their farms.” So sad to think and entire culture could become so disillusioned with life.
Page 607 About 178 “Celsus was alarmed by the spread of Christianity, by its scornful hostility to paganism, military service, and the state;” Whatever happened to that kind of Christianity? Now it seems most Christians worship our state and military as extensions of God.
Page 610 “We know almost nothing of it except its existence; any positive adjective or prejudiced pronoun applied to it would be an unwarrantable limitation; we may only call it One and First, and Good as the object of our supreme desire.” I love this description of God.
Page 612 “Greek Christianity was theological, metaphysical, mystical; Tertullian made Lain Christianity ethical, juristic, practical.” I’d like to learn more about the difference, also what happened in Egypt’s history. Why are they not Greek now?
Page 615 “Origen” It seemed that no one believed in his version of Christianity and it sounds nothing like Jesus’ words to me, but this book says we based most of Christian theology on his works.
Page 616 Just the title make me not want to read any more, “the organization of authority”. Here is where the “church” came from. My note from the margin says, so they need political power. That is my problem with Christianity as a religion, it puts aside that God is in control, organizes a political group and calls itself “church”. That’s why Christians today can put themselves behind the wars and such that early Christianity refused to partake in. Things like who says we worship what and when just drive me bonkers.
Page 619 “Rome died in giving birth to the Church; the Church matured by inheriting and accepting th responsibilities of Rome.” The church, not Christianity. The church became another government.
Chapter 29 – The Collapse of the Empire
Page 626 Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander (222) I really wish they wouldn’t have chosen names they liked or wanted to emulate. It makes is so confusing. Who is this Marcus? “He was a man of gold, without the alloy required to withstand the rough usage of this world.” I love this analogy.
Page 631 “Compelled to lure free labor back to the land, the great landlords divided their holdings into units which they leased to coloni, “cultivators”; they required from these tenants a small money rent or a tenth of the produce, and a period of unpaid labor in the owner’s villa or on his private domain.” This was the beginning of feudalism after the fall, what happens when socialism begins to fail.
Page 632 “From Septimius Severus onward repeatedly debased the currency to pay for state expenses and military supplies.” And then forced the people to use the debased coins for trade but real coins for taxes!
Page 638 “Everywhere in the Empire city walls were being built, signifying the weakening of the imperial power and the end of the Roman peace.” Reminds me of the rhetoric today to build walls around our borders.
Page 639 “Aurelian’s religious policy suggested that the power of the state was falling, that of religion rising; kings were now kings by the grace of God.” (270AD)
Page 641 “From this Orientalized monarchy came the structure of Byzantine and European kingdoms till the French Revolution.” I still don’t understand what is meant by “oriental”.
“It was a frankly centralized state, which considered local autonomy, like democracy, a luxury of security and peace, and excused its dictatorship by the needs of actual or imminent war.” Diocletian was pretty much a socialist and kept Rome’s enemies away during his rule, fed the people, stabilized the economy, but all under a tyranny which you need to make the socialism work.
Page 642 “In every large town the state became a powerful employer…standing head and shoulders above the private industrialists, who were in any case crushed by taxation.” There’s more to this paragraph and it could have been written today. “The Edict was until our time the most famous example of an attempt to replace economic laws by governmental decrees.” Why on earth, especially today, do people think this will work?!
So people tried to flee the high taxes and drafting by leaving the country. That had to be stopped, so they established serfdoms, tied the people to the land and its owners, froze people to their place in the country. So the serfdom and classes of the Middle Ages was created by the attempt at socialism during the Fall of the Roman Empire. What would have happened during those years if they hadn’t tried tyranny and socialism to block the “barbarians” from invading? Where would the world be?
Page 645 “Confronted by enemies on every side, the Roman state did what all nations must do in crucial wars; it accepted the dictatorship of a strong leader, taxed itself beyond tolerance, and put individual liberty aside until a collective liberty was secured.” A “crucial war”? What would happen instead if we retained out liberties and let nature take it’s course? Let the “barbarian” invade and find out what happens? It can’t be worse that the fall of the empire and another thousand years of “dark ages”. This is what I think of when I listen to Trump’s speeches right now and it scares the hell out of me.
Chapter 30 – The Triumph of Christianity
Page 647 “To a Roman his religion was part of the structure and ceremony of government, and his morality culminated in patriotism; to a Christian his religion was something apart from and superior to political society; his highest allegiance belonged not to Caesar but Christ.” And now we’ve come full circle. The state is our god, or at least put there by god. We need to worship it and anyone that does not is ridiculed. It’s sickening.
Page 651 Around 300AD, “The Christians were now numerous enough to retaliate.” The previous generations of peace and tolerance had grown their numbers as the empire tried to destroy them.
In the margins I wrote “Why were the Romans so cruel?” They didn’t just kill off people, they tortured them and seemed to enjoy it. Were they really like that? I mean, it must have happened a bit more than a few times if that’s what’s been left behind. But it’s strange to me. How can a group of people become so barbaric? And hundreds of years later, the Inquisition turns the tables and is more cruel and barbaric in their pursuit of heresy. It’s just terrifying. And we talk of the “radical Muslims” as if we’ve never heard of such cruelty.
Page 656 Constantine! “He was impressed by the comparative order and morality of Christian conduct, the bloodless beauty of Christian ritual, the obedience of the Christians to their clergy, their humble acceptance of life’s inequalities in the hope of happiness beyond the grave; perhaps this new religion would purify the Roman morals, regenerate marriage and the family, and allay the fever of class war.” Constantine was a politician. He used Christianity to further his rule and they fell for it completely. “While Christianity converted the world, the world converted Christianity, and displayed the natural paganism of mankind.” That’s why the church embraced the pagan rituals, celebrations, and “saints”. That’s why they gained power with their religion and used it against the people to get more power. It is not what Christ preached.
Looks like I couldn’t cut out much of my notes. It was all so important!
So here we are at the end. Rome is disappearing and in it’s place a supposedly Christian nation, the Catholic Church, Popes, and Saints, begins its rise. I’m not sure it was a very positive thing. For a thousand years the world lived in chaos. It seems only when the Enlightenment began that the world began to reawaken. As a Christian myself, I wonder what Christ thinks of what people did in His name. What would have been different if we had stuck to the peace that Christ preached? Would we still know Him? Or would they have been wiped out?
And what about now? Will the USA (and its allies) survive the next hundred years? Will we have a rise in dictatorship in the hopes of keeping us all safe from invasion? And why must we? Why do we fear change so much that we would kill to keep things the same? What if we embraced the future and see where it goes? Will we return to another period like the Middle Ages? How long will it last? This book only made my feelings of doom stronger.