Julius Caesar painting exercise

I just got a clamp-on holder for my phone and wanted to try this—

Update: Sorry for any confusion if you visited here in the last hour. I couldn’t get the video to show up. I’ve since added a link to Instagram. I hope that works! Thanks for your patience.

 

May we be Frank?

Throughout this history I’ve been trying to keep it zippy. Not too many words. No excess verbiage. Avoid the chit-chat. Anyway…to do that I’ve had to shrink down some larger-than-life personalities into one or two paragraphs. Charlemagne—also known as Carolus Magnus, Karl der Grosse, Charles the Great—is one guy who can hardly be covered in a book, let alone a blog post. But I’ll give it a whack.

After the western half of the Roman Empire fell to barbarian invasion in ad 476, civilization and culture had a tough time of it. From the north and west, people who would later become the French, the Germans, the Spanish and the Italians all fought within the empire. People from the MidEast also wanted to take over the empire. This state of constant warfare lasted more than a couple of centuries. Forget about culture—nobody could relax long enough to create art or music. Then in the 600s one tribe, the Franks, started fighting better than everybody else and a dynasty was begun—a ruling family who set up some stability and order using military power. The Carolingian Dynasty started with Charles Martel, then his son Pepin, then Charlemagne. Charlemagne was a ruler who rode at the head of his army and whupped the other armies. He brought more than peace to what had been the Roman Empire—he encouraged the arts, education and literature.

Remember that Christianity was the empire’s official religion since Theodosius. Pope Leo III was Charlemagne’s biggest fan and had Charlemagne crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in ad 800. After that, Charlemagne began a program of standardizing many parts of the Holy Roman Empire’s way of doing things. He relied on his right-hand man Alcuin of York to make much of this happen. Alcuin was a gifted innovator—he came up with cultural inventions that are part of our culture today.

F’rinstance, Charlemagne noticed that churches throughout the empire would sing a particular hymn, but each church used a different tune. He decided they should all sing a hymn using the same tune for that hymn, so Alcuin invented musical notation. With a songbook you can read how a tune should be sung. Charlemagne thought that the Roman way of writing (ALL CAPS) used up too much space and was difficult to read, so Alcuin invented upper-case and lower-case letters, like what you’re reading here.

Here’s why I’m telling you about Charlemagne. He liked Little Dennis’ Anno Domini system, so Charlemagne made AD and BC the Holy Roman Empire’s official way of numbering the years.

Just as it still is today.

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Everything AD does but backwards, in high heels

Long ago, in the dim misty recesses of history, there was a famous dance couple: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Their dance routines were stylish and glamorous—and captured in movie musicals so you can still watch them. Fred and Ginger made dancing look easy by putting in a lot of rehearsal time.

Ginger once joked that not only did she do everything Fred did, but she did it backwards, in high heels.

If you thought it was hard to figure out how the centuries are referred to in Anno Domini, how do we ever count back the centuries Before Christ? We live in the 2000s and call it the 21st Century. The 21st Century ad starts with 2001 and ends with 2100. How does that work in bc, where you count backwards?

Let’s pick a century. How about the 4th century? The 4th century Anno Domini started the first day of ad 301 and ended the last day of ad 400. It’s just the opposite in bc. The 4th century Before Christ started the first day of 400 bc and ended the last day of 301 bc.

Are you getting a headache yet?

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What century is this anyway?

All the years in this century start with 20… So how come it’s called the 21st Century?

Well, first of all, not all the years start with 20… The very last year of this century, its 100th year, will be 2100.

It works just like your age. Are you 12 years old? That means you’re in your 13th year. When you’re in your 21st year, you’ll be 20 years old until the very last day—the day before your birthday. Then on that birthday you’ll be 21 years old and in your 22nd year.

Anno Domini is in its 21st century, and is 2019 years old. December 31, 2100 will be the last day of the 21st Century. On January 1, 2101, AD will be in its 22nd century.

The Venerable Bede

What about all those years before Jesus was born? Don’t they get numbered, too?

I thought that a derby and a brolly would make him look more English.

In ad 731, an English monk, the Venerable Bede, wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He used the Anno Domini numbering system to date the years when events happened. Bede is considered to be the father of English history. Ecclesiastical means having to do with the Christian Church.

Bede’s History (5 volumes!) included events that happened before Christ was born. He numbered those years going backwards, starting with the year 1 Before Christ (bc for short). We still use bc and ad to number years. Lately it’s become fashionable among fancy-pants academic types to call Before Christ ‘Before Common Era’ and Anno Domini ‘Common Era.’ We use bc and ad in this history to honor the achievements of Bede and Dionysius.

‘Venerable’ means ‘honored’ or ‘revered.’

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Little Dennis

dennis570

At the Council of Nicaea a lot of things were agreed upon. One thing the western and eastern halves of the Roman Empire could not agree on was when Easter should be celebrated. Each half—western and eastern—celebrated on a different date. This went on for a long time until finally in ad 525 an expert was called in. Dionysius Exiguus (his name means ‘Little Dennis’) was a scholarly monk who got the job of figuring out exactly when the Christian holy day of Easter should occur every year.

Dionysius decided to go back and find when the first Easter occurred. Jesus’ resurrection happened during the Jewish Passover—Pesach. The Jewish calendar relies on the motions of the Moon and Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Using some incredibly complicated astronomical calculations, he was able to arrive at the original date.

Dionysius realized once he’d found the date of Jesus’ resurrection, he could then figure out when Jesus was born. Jesus was 33 years old when He was crucified, so Dionysius counted back 33 years from the first Easter to get the year of Jesus’ birth.

In the past, years had been named after whoever was the imperial consul at the time. Dionysius decided it was time to change that. He named the years after Jesus, the Christian Savior. So the years beginning with Jesus’ birth are numbered and called Anno Domini (ad for short)—Latin for ‘the year of our Lord.’

By the way, Dionysius reckoned that Easter should occur on the first Sunday following the 14th day of the lunar cycle—the full moon—that falls on or after the spring equinox.

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https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-european-biographies/dionysius-exiguus
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Constantine-I-Roman-emperor

A Constantinople song not by They Might Be Giants or The Four Lads

A little side-post—Byzantium was a city in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Constantine I made Byzantium the empire’s eastern capital, and so the citizens started calling it Constantinople—Constantine’s city (poli is Greek for city).

Here’s British singer/songwriter Leslie Sarony to help you remember how to spell it. Feel free to sing along.

You got some change coming

It may have been time-consuming to send a letter across the Roman Empire (especially by today’s standards), but the Christians spread their new religion fairly quickly. You can read in The Acts of The Apostles how Christians traveled from town to town, telling people about the Gospel. Roman roads went everywhere and were well-maintained. The Roman army kept the roads safe. Roman soldiers who’d adopted Christianity spread the Word to far-flung regions of the empire where they were garrisoned.

In earlier posts I talked about how Christians were persecuted when they were a religious minority. Emperor Constantine turned that around when he became a Christian himself and issued the Edict of Milan, which made it legal for Romans to practice whatever religion they chose.

Christians learned how to build their religion mostly thanks to letters from Saint Paul. Saint Paul was a missionary who organized Christian thought. His letters are in the New Testament of the Bible. There were still issues to iron out, so in ad 325, Constantine got all the Christian leaders together in the Anatolian town of Nicaea to agree on what Christians believe. They wrote the Nicene Creed, which Christians still recite today (you can find it in the back of your gray hymnal).

Finally, in ad 380, Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

I spent a few posts here showing you how Christianity grew within the Roman Empire; then became the official religion; the empire split into eastern and western halves; and each half developed its own culture. I wrote earlier how the Torah (the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament) changed the way people thought about time: as a line, not a circle.

Okay—what happens next?

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Christianity In The Roman Empire


https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/ancient-medieval/christianity/a/roman-culture
https://www.britannica.com/event/First-Council-of-Nicaea-325

How big was it?

The Roman Empire was so big, its belly-button had an echo.

As time went by, the Roman Empire grew bigger and bigger. How big? When it sat around the Mediterranean Sea, it SAT AROUND the Mediterranean Sea. It extended north into the British Isles; west as far as the coast of Spain; south to include Egypt and east as far as Mesopotamia. The space it took up was 2.2 million square miles. One hundred and twenty million people lived in the Roman Empire.

That’s huge. There weren’t cell phones, tv or radio for one end of the empire to instantly communicate with the other. You could send a letter, which had to be carried by someone walking or riding a horse. Managing such a big area—especially guarding the borders from Rome’s enemies—was really difficult. There were roads and bridges and waterways that needed to be built and maintained. It was becoming too much of a headache for just one emperor.

The Romans tried having more than one emperor at the same time, which sorta kinda worked for a while. By ad 285 the Emperor Diocletian decided it was too big and split the empire into two halves. The city of Rome continued to be the capital of the western half. Byzantium became the capital of the eastern half. Together they were still called The Roman Empire. Separately each half began to take on a distinct and different character.

https://www.ancient.eu/Western_Roman_Empire/
https://www.quora.com/How-big-was-the-Roman-Empire
http://reifshistoryclasses.weebly.com/the-beginning-of-the-byzantine-empire-map-activity.html

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Constantine dreams

Persecution means to target and punish a particular person or group of people. Christians who lived in the Roman Empire suffered persecution. They weren’t allowed to worship God and were arrested and punished for not worshiping the Roman gods. Yet despite being persecuted, the followers of Christ grew in number. You can grab a bible and read all about it in The Acts of the Apostles and Saint Paul’s letters (in the New Testament).

For the Christians, a big change happened when Emperor Constantine was about to fight the Battle of Milvian Bridge in ad 312. This battle was part of a civil war—Romans fighting Romans. Constantine had been a worshiper of Apollo, the Sun god. The night before the big battle, Constantine had a dream. In his dream, he saw the sun (Apollo’s symbol)—but with a cross in front, blotting it out. Beneath the cross a Latin inscription read, “In hoc signo vinces*”—“Under this sign, you will win.” Early the next morning, Constantine ordered his troops to paint crosses on their shields. Constantine won the battle and became the sole emperor of Rome. Out of gratitude he became a Christian and issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which allowed everyone in the empire to follow whatever religion they chose without being persecuted.

The Battle o the Milvian bridge seems ideal for a rousing climactic scene in a sword & sandals movie—the hopeless odds, the clever general, a lightning strike at the enemy’s vulnerable spot, the victory as the enemy retreats in confusion. You can read about it here.

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http://www.ushistory.org/civ/6f.asp

The Growth of Christianity in the Roman Empire


https://www.britannica.com/topic/Battle-of-the-Milvian-Bridge

*EEN HOKE SEEN-yo WEEN-kays, for you pronunciation purists.