Tag Archives: history

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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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

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?

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

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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Those rotten Romans

I’ve been thinking about that last post—about the early Christian martyrs who were executed by being thrown to the lions. And it’s been bothering me.

For an image, I drew a fearsome-looking lion. I had drawn another picture which includes the condemned Christians, but my jokey style made it look like I were laughing at them, so I didn’t post it. The subject is too awful to look at, or draw, directly.

Let’s face it, the Romans built an awe-inspiring civilization—with a flowering of art, literature, architecture—but they were still barbarian enough that they condemned human beings to be torn apart by animals. They even made a show of the awfulness; they held the executions in an arena for entertainment and sold tickets. When you see historic pictures of these executions, the lions are always big and powerful. If you think about it, their keepers must have abused and starved the poor animals so that they’d be crazed enough to attack people.

This is something I didn’t expect to write about for this little history. I thought to trick you into reading my blog by keeping it light-hearted and fun. But, it’s not a bad thing to remind ourselves every so often: humankind is capable of great inhumanity. The Romans could be downright rotten and so can we. The only thing that keeps us from slipping into barbarism is our humanity, our empathy for our fellow creatures. Jesus encouraged His followers to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

Wouldn’t it have been fantastic if His followers brought the Roman Empire around to that way of thinking?

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Long time ago in Bethlehem

The custom of naming years after whoever wore the crown lasted well into the time of the Roman Empire.

Two thousand and some years ago, a baby was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea—in the country we now call Israel. The baby was Jesus, son of Mary, the Holy Spirit in human form. He would grow up to begin a ministry that led to His crucifixion and resurrection—in order to save all of humankind. Jesus is the Redeemer; the Christos in Greek; the Mashiach in Hebrew.

The Christian evangelist Luke wrote about the Nativity before there were numbered years. How could he put a date on Jesus’ birth? Here’s how: Luke tells us that Jesus was born while Augustus was emperor of Rome and Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Luke knew his readers would remember when those guys were in charge and place Jesus’ birth in that time.

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In fact, it would be 5 more centuries before someone thought of numbering the years.

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https://biblehub.com/library/ramsay/was_christ_born_in_bethlehem/chapter_11_quirinius_the_governor.htm

The ancient cheeks

In the ancient world there wasn’t a numbering of years as we have today. People would remember years or events by who was king at the time. For the ancient Greeks time was a cycle, so they didn’t think of time as a progression of numbered years, as we do. The Greeks of each city-state named the years after whoever was their archon (AR-kon—ruler or king) at the time. Later on the Greeks numbered years by a 4-year cycle, called an olympiad. The Olympic games were held every fourth year, then the cycle started over.

For what it’s worth, the Olympic athletes supposedly competed in the nude. The tradition may have begun when one runner somehow lost his gym shorts during a race. Okay, you guys. No. I’m absolutely not going to draw a cartoon of naked Greek runners. What a buncha sickos!

Well, okay. Maybe one cartoon.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Bend me your years

Rome’s second king, Numa Pompilius, felt kind of bad about those unnamed extra winter days, so he came up with two new months: Januarius and Februarius. King Numa tacked his new months onto the beginning of the year, which bumped all the other months back. That wasn’t such a big deal for the first four months, which were named for gods (Mars, Aphrodite, Maia, Juno)—but it’s darned awkward for the other months, which were named for their numbered positions in the year. ‘September’ means ‘seventh month’ but now it’s the ninth. October means eighth, but it’s the tenth. November means ninth, but it’s the eleventh. December means tenth, but it’s the twelfth.

The calendar year still kept coming up 10 days too short, so every 2-3 years a leap month—Intercalaris—was added.

In 45 bc, Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar by uncoupling it from the Moon—no more figuring out lunar cycles. He must have decided that having a set number of days in a year—365—meant fewer headaches when running something as big as the Roman Empire. Julius ditched the leap month. But because a year is actually 365 days and 6 hours, he added an extra day (February 29) every fourth year—the Leap Year.

What about Quintilis and Sextilis? Quintilis (means ‘fifth month,’ now it’s the seventh) was renamed July for Julius Caesar and Sextilis (means ‘sixth month,’ now it’s the eighth) was renamed August for Caesar Augustus (Julius’ nephew and Rome’s first emperor).

This was the Julian Calendar. It’s more or less the same one we use today.

Julius Caesar reforming the calendar.