Friday, April 4, 2014

Resistance against Rome and several other nations

We used to have someone from France on a forum I was on.  He ran a bookstore if memory serves me.  He once took offense at my suggesting that France was a “client” of the U.S. after WWII.   It is perhaps natural that we think “my country, right or wrong,” and try to make excuses for its weakness if we lived through Vichy France, and for its excesses if we were like Heidegger, living in Nazi Germany.   I was happy to be part of the U.S. which defended Western Europe against Nazi Germany, but the aforementioned Frenchman didn’t like my attitude, nor no doubt the attitude of the arrogant Americans who swept into France in 1945 like conquerors.  In the meantime (not quite but nearly) Heidegger bemoaned the fact that the Germans hadn’t relied upon “tradition” in quite the manner he had hoped. 

I’ve been reading David Mattingly’s An Imperial Possession, Britain in the Roman Empire.  I recall reading Tacitus not especially critically eons ago, but Mattingly is noticeably critical:  In regard to the “resistance” of 47 A.D.  he writes, “Tacitus says the Briton’s chosen field of battle was a defended enclave, which illustrates the character of this so-called revolt.  Far from being on the rampage, some part of the Iceni had refused to hand over arms, and retreated into a defended site.  They only ‘chose’ the field of battle in the sense that that was where the Roman army found them.”

But when the Icenian leader, Prasutagus died, “Roman centurions and imperial slaves plundered the kingdom. . .”  Prasutagus’ widow Boudica “was flogged, her daughters raped . . .”  Tacitus implied that responsibility for this rested with minor officials abusing their power.  Only at the end of this section of his account did he reveal the key information that these events had taken place in the context of the annexation of the kingdom and its incorporation into the province.”   The enraged Boudica caused a huge force to be fielded in retaliation against the Romans and Mattingly speculates about the “Total Roman and provincial dead” was around 40,000.

In regard to the war with the Silures, Tacitus notes that the loss of several senior officers and well over 1,000 casualties were major setbacks.  “Tacitus speculated that either Rome had reduced the vigour of its operations believing the war to be over, or the Britons had been moved by some strange passion to avenge Caratacus.  The more likely scenario is that Roman pacification measures in Silurian territory misjudged the preparedness of the Silures to lay down their arms. The construction of forts, the seizure of crops and animals by foraging parties, and the pillaging of Silurian settlements were provocative acts.  After these two major actions, the Silures mainly reverted to hit-and-run tactics, although two Roman auxiliary units, incautiously engaging in pillage, were cut off by a larger-scale attack.  Roman frustration with this obdurate resistance was such that they evidently declared their intent to exterminate the people or transport them – the extreme reaction of an imperial power to unremitting resistance.”

What happened to the Silures?  The governor fighting them died and it wasn’t until 57 that Quintus Veranius resumed Rome’s offensive against the Silures.  Tacitus wasn’t impressed with Veranius, but the “Silures disappeared from the pages of Tacitus at a stroke and the policy seems to have been continued against the Ordovices by his successor.  “Suetonius Paullinus, another military careerist . . . conquered Ordovician territory within two years and at the start of his third season of campaigning stood facing the island of Anglesey (Mona) across the Menai Straits.  The island’s population was swelled by a large number of refugees (or fugitives to use the Roman terminology).  Tacitus gave the Roman view of the enemy lined up on the opposing shore: armed men, fanatical women bearing torches and druids invoking terrible curses.  From a Roman perspective these were the remaining dregs of British resistance, further tainted by their barbaric religious practices such as human sacrifice.  They could expect no quarter now they had nowhere else to run.  In a well-planned amphibious assault, Suetonius Paullinus led his army across the Straits to ‘cut down all the men’.  There is little doubt that this was a massacre, followed up by the destruction of sacred groves.”

Comment:  Bryan Sykes in his The Seven Daughters of Eve argues that all Europeans (meaning if memory serves me “western Europeans” ) are descended from seven mitochondrial “Eves” whose descendants immigrated to Europe between 10,000 and 45,000 years ago.  Perhaps there are more Eves than seven, but my impression is the Sykes arguments are generally accepted.  The point being that the Romans, who in Mattingly’s interpretations seem every bit as ruthless as German Nazis, Imperial Japanese, or Stalinist Communist are all part of the same mitochondrial groupings that we belong to (if we are genetically European).  Perhaps Rome early on sought to preemptively defeat cities or peoples likely to present a threat later on, but they became so good at it that their soldiers committed atrocities almost casually. 

Sykes also wrote Saxons, Vikings and Celts, the Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland.  Unlike Mattingly, Sykes merely wants to know who we are genetically.  The British Isles have only been inhabited this last time (since the most recent ice age) for about 8,000 years.  So whichever Eve or Eves we descended from they were some place in Western Europe before then.  Y-Chromosome and Mitochondrial analyses did permit Sykes to distinguish between the Romans and those more “native” to the Islands (bearing in mind that invasions did occur prior to the Roman Invasion).  On page 287 Sykes writes “true Roman genes are very rare in the Isles.”   We might ask, if we could resurrect one of their British governors, “so what was the purpose?”  He would have his answer:  The glory of Rome, the protection of Rome against future incursions, the Roman need for food and supplies, etc.

“How would you like it if someone did that to you,” we might ask?  And he would answer, “that was done and many would have like to do it again.  That was why we became so martial in attitude.  We were forced into it.”

And as we know Hitler said something like that as did the Imperial Japanese and Stalin.  There are always reasons; which isn’t to say that none of them are legitimate, for who can determine that other than the leaders of the city state or nation in question.   It is difficult though not to sympathize with Queen Boudica after she was flogged and her daughters raped by representatives of Rome.  There seems a huge gap between the rationalizations of a British governor and the application of those rationalizations by the Roman soldiers.

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