How Alexander’s Conquests Perpetuated Global Greek Influence

Pyrrho of Elis Founds Dogmatic Skepticism - Global Firsts ...

Episode 23: Alexander’s Conquests and Hellensim

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

In this lecture, Benjamin explores how Alexander’s father, Phillip II transformed Macedonia from a rustic outpost to a cosmopolitan kingdom that captured military control of the entire Greek peninsula.

At 21, Alexander assumed the throne following his father’s assassination. A brilliant military strategist, in 334 BC Alexander marched east to conquer Persia and south to conquer Egypt (332 BC). After receiving a rapturous reception for ending Persian occupation, he appointed his boyhood friend Ptolemy to the Egyptian throne and marched into Mesopotamia, the economic heart of the Persian empire.

After conquering Samarkand (modern day Afghanistan) in 329 BC, he crossed the Hindu Kush mountains via the Kyber Pass into the Indus Valley. Although his troops rebelled against a further military push into India (327 BC), the limited excursion successfully opened India to Greek cultural and economic influence.

He withdrew from India to take up residence in Nebuchadnessar II’s palace in Babylon. He died at age 33 from excessive feasting and drinking.

Over the next 50 years, his generals divided up the massive Hellenistic empire he had created. Benjamin believes most modern day Greek influence stems from the half dozen or so Greek cities Alexander established and the generals who succeeded him. Alexandria in Egypt is an excellent example, with its large ethnically diverse population, its major sea trade and its stellar intelligentsia centered around the Alexandrian library.*

Major inventions stemming from this period include gears, screws, rotary mills, the water clock, the water organ, the torsion catapult, a chart to find prime numbers and pneumatics (the use of steam to operate machines and toys). The latter technology would vanish from human culture for 2,000 years until 1763 when James Watts invented the modern steam engine.

Benjamin identifies three major Greek philosophies arising during this period: epicureanism, stoicism and skepticism. The epicureans believed the greatest good was to seek modest, sustainable pleasure by understanding how the world works and limiting desires. The stoics believed that because so aspects of life are beyond human control, happiness is best achieved by aiming for moderation in all things. The skeptics taught that absolute knowledge is impossible.

Over time most Greek-controlled regions gained independence, including Bactria (Afghanistan), Persia and Egypt. Around 250 BC, the Greek city-states regained independence briefly prior to Roman conquest 100 years later. In Egypt, the Ptolemy dynasty ruled until 33 BC, when Egypt fell to Roman rule following Cleopatra’s suicide.


*The Alexandrian library was destroyed by fire either by Julius Caesar (accidentally) in 48 BC, by the Roman emperor Aurelian in 275 AD, or the emperor Theodosius in 391 AD during his campaign to destroy all the empire’s pagan sites.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/alexanders-conquests-and-hellenism

How Senate Corruption Caused the Demise of the Roman Republic

Hannibal of Carthage: Military Commander and Greatest ...

Hannibal leading his elephants over the Alps during his invasion of Northern Italy

Episode 21: Building the Roman Republic

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

According to Benjamin, the Roman republic was formed when residents of city-state Rome overthrew the last Roman king (535 BC) and created an assembly of nobles (called the senate), which elected two consuls to oversee the government.

In 493 BC, there was another major revolt, in which the plebians  (commoners) refused to work or serve in the military. The Senate ended the general strike by allowing the plebs to elect tribunes with the power to veto the consuls’ decisions. However the vast majority of agricultural land continued to be owned by the nobility, who treated the peasants who farmed it as virtual serfs.

From 309 BC, when marauding Gauls sacked the city, Rome became increasingly militarized. During the Pyrrhic War (280-275 BC), Greek colonies in southern Italy hired Pyrrhus, the mercenary king of Epirus, to protect them against Roman aggression. Pyrrhus technically won all the battles he launched against Rome. However his forces were too weakened to defend themselves against further Roman assaults. By 270 BC, Rome had brought all the Greek city-states of southern Italy under Roman control.

The three Punic Wars (264-164 BC), directed against the Phoenicians who controlled Carthage, were the first military engagements involving hundreds of thousands of troops in multiple arenas throughout the Mediterranean. They were also the first wars in history to result in large numbers of civilian deaths.

In 203 BC, the Carthaginian general Hannibal occupied all of northern Italy for eight months and was preparing to march on when the Roman general Scipio attacked Carthage. In doing so, he forced Hannibal to withdraw from Italy and return to North Africa. As the Romans perfect the capacity to sustain war on multiple fronts, they eventually took control of the former Carthaginian empire, virtually extinguishing Carthaginian culture by 146 BC.

In 197 BC, the Romans attacked Macedonia to punish them for allying with Carthage, and in 146 BC, they put down an uprising in Corinth and annexed the entire Greek peninsula.

In 133 BC, the king of Pergamon (in modern day Turkey), bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. This meant the republic of Rome now had colonies in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Following the conquest of Greece, the Roman elite learned the Greek language and became avid consumers of Greek literature, philosophy and art. Meanwhile the city of Rome underwent a major social crisis as senators gobbled up more and more agricultural land, and troops released from the military returned from war to form an unemployed proletariat.*

Meanwhile extreme corruption prevented the Senate from enacting necessary reforms to prevent the Republic from collapsing. In 133 BC, Tiberius Gracchus attempted to enact a law to limit the size of senatorial farms, and the senate had him murdered along with 300 of his followers. In 123-122 BC his brother Gaius Gracchus was elected tribune and established the “dole,” a grain subsidy for unemployed Romans. He also tried to establish military colonies for veterans in Europe and Africa. He was also killed,  along with 3,000 followers in violent rioting.

In 107 BC, the peoples assembly elected the tough general Gaius Marius as tribune. The latter established the destabilizing precedent of recruiting his own army among peasant followers. The creation by Gaius Marius and Sculla of personal armies to put down an uprising in Asia Minor would lead to Rome’s first civil war.

In 59 BC, Julius Caesar, elected consul in 64 BC, triggered the second civil war by refusing to disband the army he had led in Gaul. This caused his co-consul and most of the senate to flee to Greece.

After the senate appointed Caesar “dictator,” he declared the republic dead and passed laws to reduce debt, establish colonies for returned veterans. He also declared that one third laborers on senators’ estates had to be freemen. These reforms effectively reduced the number of Romans receiving the “dole” from 320,000 to 100,000 (out of a total population of 500,000_.

The alleged reason for Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC was to restore “liberty” to Rome. His 18-year-old adopted son Octavian formed an alliance with Marc Antony and the Senate to pursue and kill the assassins. Mark Antony ruled Rome until he fell in love with Cleopatra. This led Octavian to declared war on Egypt and proclaim Antony a traitor.**

Granted the titles Augustus and imperator (emperor) by the senate, Augustus went on to reduce corruption, professionalized the army and establish 40 overseas colonies for veterans.


*From the Latin word “proles” (offspring).

**Both Antony and Cleopatra subsequently committed suicide

 

 

 

 

 

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/building-roman-republic

Jericho: Oldest City on Earth?

Jericho: Oldest City on Earth?

Magellan TV (2019)

Film Review

This documentary explores the ancient history of Jericho, based on archeological remains and carbon dating.

Recent evidence suggests that the city of Jericho dates nearly to 10,000 BC. The first known settlement (10,000 – 9,000 BC) contains some of the earliest examples of domesticated plants and animals. It’s believed Jericho was originally founded by “affluent” hunter gatherers, who came across the regions abundant grain grasses when the last Ice Age receded. Cultural artifacts suggest they had extensive trading relationships with other communities throughout the fertile crescent, including Göbekli Tepa Turkey.

The next settlement at Jericho (8,500 – 7,300 BC) is referred to as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Settlement. It seems to have had a much stronger religious focus (with evidence both of the “mother goddess” and male animalistic gods. Residents still mostly relied on wild gazelle for meat, though there’s some evidence they ate sheep and goats. It’s not clear whether these animals were domesticated or if people caught them and kept them in pens before eating them. They also ate domesticated wheat, barley, peas, and beans.

This city was replaced by the larger Pre-Pottery Neolithic B settlement (7300 – 5800 BC), housing roughly 2,000 people. Here the homes were rectangular, with clear evidence of domesticated pigs, goats, sheep, and oryx. The residents engaged in ancestor worship. Some major natural catastrophe (flood?) depopulated all of Palestine around 6000 BC, with human settlement resuming in the 5th century BC. Archeologists believe that between 5800 and 4000 BC, the region’s residents were nomadic herders, continually moving domesticated animals between pastures rather than settling in specific region.

During Jericho’s copper period (4,000 – 3,000 BC), the settlement was more like a small village than a city. Residents imported their copper (and obsidian) from the region that is modern day Turkey.

During Jericho’s bronze age (3100 – 1400 BC), it was clearly a city again, with defensive walls, an army and evidence of written Mesopotamian and Egyptian language. The city lost its independence in 2000 BC and for three and a half centuries was occupied by multiple competing powers, including Egypt, Assyria, the Mittanites and other regional powers. In 1550 BC the city was destroyed and would not reappear as an urban center for 100 years.

In 1400 BC the city was destroyed once again during wars with Israelite tribes. This would be consistent with the Biblical account in the book of Exodus.

Edward Said: The Origin of Islamophobia

Edward Said on Orientalism

Directed by Jeremy Smith, Sanjay Tairej, and Sut Jhally

Film Review

This documentary, produced and narrated by University of Massachusetts (Amherst) professor of communication Sut Jhally, is based on a 1998 interview with late Palestinian-American Dr Edward Said. Prior to his death from leukemia in 2003, Said was a professor of literature at Columbia University. The interview primarily concerns his 1978 book Orientalism.

Said, who was born in Palestine, became homeless and stateless in 1948 when his family home was seized by Jewish terrorists. He grew up in the US.

His book Orientalism would give birth to a new field of study called post-colonial theory, as well as having a a profound effect on the academic study of English, history, anthropology, and political science. The filmmakers embellish the interview with numerous works of art and film clips illustrating important concepts Said introduces.

The basic premise of Orientalism is that the West, dating back to Napoloean’s 1798 conquest of Egypt, operates under a preconceived image of Middle Eastern peoples. This image, which permeates nearly all pertinent Western art, history, literature, and film, portrays them as mysterious, backwards, barbaric, fanatical, and threatening.

In France and the UK, who were the main colonizers of the Middle East and North Africa, this distorted perception grew out of the conventional tendency to de-humanize the colonized.

In contrast, American-style orientalism derives mainly from the special relationship the US enjoys with Israel. The latter aggressively promotes the ideology that all Arabs are natural enemies.

Said traces strong anti-Islamic sentiment in the US to the 1978 Islamic revolution in Iran, which, in removing the pro-US totalitarian government, cost Wall Street oil interests substantially.

The most interesting part of the interview concerns the 1997 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City – which both the FBI and US media blamed on Middle East terrorists in the immediate aftermath.

 

Facebook and Fake News: the Sanitized PBS Version

The Facebook Dilemma

James Jacoby Frontline PBS (2018)

Film Review

This document presents a sanitized PBS version of the Facebook fake news/Russiagate controversy that ultimately led to growing Facebook censorship of both right and left wing social mediate sites. In my view the main drawback of the film is its failure to examine Mark Zuckerberg’s murky funding links to In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm funded by the CIA (see Revealed CIA-Facebook Connections), nor the major role CIA trolls play on Facebook and other social media networks (see CIA Agents Hired to Troll Alternative Media Comments Online), nor the the historic role the Agency has played in corrupting the the so-called mainstream media (see  CIA Media Control Program Operation Mockingbird)

Without this context, the naive viewer gets the impression that Facebook is uniquely vulnerable to manipulation of its content by foreign intelligence trolls, which is far from the truth.

Part I  covers the period from Facebook’s launch in 2004 to the 2015 manipulation of Facebook by Russian trolls to demonize the fascist Poroschenko government Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland installed in Ukraine in 2014.

Like all the big tech companies, Facebook derives most of its profits by collecting data on its users, which they use to target them with product ads and/or sell it to third parties for similar purposes. I was really surprised to learn the Federal Trade Commission first filed charges against Facebook in 2010 for selling user data to other corporate interests without their permission. Facebook would settle the case by promising to “plug the gap” that was allowing this to occur.*

According to the filmmakers, US policy makers first realized that Facebook could be misused by bad actors shortly after the world’s first Facebook revolution, the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt.** Later in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood would also use Facebook to come to power in Egypt.


*Given the scandal that erupted in 2017 over Facebook’s sale of user data to Cambridge Analytica, clearly this “gap” was never plugged.

**There is good evidence that the 2011 Arab Spring was actually a series of “color revolutions” orchestrated by the CIA and State Department. See The CIA Role in the Arab Spring and Arab Spring Made in the USA

***There is also good evidence the Muslim Brotherhood has longstanding links to the CIA. See Muslin Brotherhood: Auxillary Force of MI6/CIA

Part 2, which covers the period 2016-2018, mainly concerns the 2016 election and the algorithm behind Facebook’s news feed. The platform’s most popular feature, the latter provides users with their own personalized view of the news, based on links they have viewed, liked, and shared in the past. This algorithm, first heavily used by Obama’s presidential campaigns, allows politicians to microtarget individuals and groups most likely to respond to specific messaging.

By 2016, 62% of Americans derived most of their news from Facebook, in part because nearly all US news outlets were publishing directly into Facebook’s news feed. During the 2016 primary and general election, there were over one billion campaign posts on Facebook. The Trump campaign alone spent $100 million on Facebook advertising.

By this point a number of foreign actors had also discovered the enormous value of sensational, violent, and political divisive posts in driving  users to their Facebook site. For example, a group of Macedonian hackers used bizarre Trump posts (eg Pope endorses Trump) to lure users to commercial sites that earned them hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

Likewise a St Petersburg group called the Internet Research Agency (believed to be linked to the Russian government) spent $100,000 to promote a series of pro- and anti-Trump, pro- and anti-immigration, and pro- and anti-gun posts. A spokesperson for US intelligence claims the controversies this generated adversely affected the 2016 presidential elections: that is it caused a lot of Trump supporters, who normally stay home, to go to the polls.

Far more ominous, however, were the use of Facebook by Philippine dictator Rodrigo Duterte to demonize Filipino human rights activists, and its use (according to the UN Special Rapporteur) to inflame Buddhist violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, to inflame Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese against the country’s Tamil minority, and to inflame Hindus against Muslims in India.

 

More History You Didn’t Learn in School: The Nazca Empire (100 BC) in Southern Peru

World History Part 3 – The Word and the Sword

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Part 3 traces the rise of the Quin dynasty in China, the Mauryan empire in India, the Roman empire, the Nazca empire in South America, and the first Islamic empire. It also traces the development of world religions that arose in reaction to the barbarous violence of empire building. In my mind the ghoulish reenactments of human sacrifice and the popular Roman spectacles of massacring Christians in the Coliseum significantly detract from the film.

The film starts by contrasting the rise of the Quin empire with that of the Mauryan empire in the 3rd century BC. After coming to power, the Mauryan emperor Ashokan embraced Buddhism, renouncing violence and issuing a universal of human rights. In addition to sending Buddhist missionaries across the known world from Vietnam to the Mediterranean, he abolished the slave trade and established schools and hospitals for the poor.

It goes on to cover the rise of the Roman empire, which owing to an alliance between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra in 48 BC made Egypt a Roman colony.

In this context, it traces the rise of Christianity, thanks to the missionary zeal of Saul of Tarsus (St Paul), who dedicated his life to spreading the Christian faith to non-Jews, and the Christians’ cult of martyrdom in the face of Roman persecution.

The Nazca Empire, which emerged in South America in 100 BC practiced human sacrifice to guarantee soil fertility and protect their civilization against natural disasters. The empire vanished owing to the inhabitants’ depletion of verango trees they relied on for fuel and food. Without tree roots to anchor it, fertile soil was washed away and the region became a desert.

The film ends with the rise of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century AD and the role of Bilal, a freed African slave, in uniting warring Arabian tribes in a religion that united belief in jihad with conquest. Within 120 years, Muslims controlled more territory than the Romans, extending from Central Asia to Spain.

History of the World: BBC Version

Survival: History of the World Episode 1

BBC (2018)

Film Review

This informative eight-episode BBC series is framed as a history of the species Homo sapiens. In reality, it’s a gruesome history of Western imperialism, but I didn’t figure this out until Episode 7. Obviously aimed at a millenial audience, the melodramatic reenactments are too long and a bit nauseating (especially the really gory scenes depicting human sacrifice and torture).

Part 1 begins 70,000 years ago with the 1,000 fully evolved members of the homo sapiens species leaving Africa by crossing the Red Sea to the Arabian peninsula. At this point in their development, they possess both language and weapons. Following the trails created by migrating herds, they head east towards India and South East Asia and north towards Europe. Some would reach Australia by 50,000 BC, Europe by 45,000 BC and North America (via the Bering Strait) by 15,000 BC (other non-BBC sources suggest they reached North America by 30,000 – 40,000 BC and were well in place by 15,000 BC).

In Europe, homo sapiens encounter Neanderthals, a second species of human apes which migrated there (from Africa presumably?) around 150,000 BC. Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalis coexisted in Europe (and according to modern DNA analysis interbred) for between 5,000 – 10,000 years. The Neanderthals become extinct, around 30,000 BC, possibly because tools and language help Homo sapiens compete more successfully for limited game.

During the 27,000 – 16,000 BC ice age, most of Europe is covered with vast sheets of ice. As the climate begins to warm, homo sapiens hunter gatherers in the fertile crescent region of the Middle East learn how to domesticate plants and animals. This knowledge spreads north to Europe over the next 1,000 years. A parallel agricultural revolution also occurs in China, India and South America.

This new found ability to produce their own food leads nomadic hunter gatherers to begin settling in permanent towns and villages.

In cataloguing the earliest evidence of “civilized” society, the filmmakers start with 4,000 BC China, which had a population of about 2 million. Next they highlight the Minoan civilization in Crete around 3,700 BC. Estimated to number approximately 100,000, the Minoans produce aqueducts, multistory architecture, and bronze weapons and jewelry. They also engage in human sacrifice to appease gods who inflict earthquakes and volcanoes on them.

In 3,200 BC Egyptian civilization develops the first written language, which enables them to develop a legal system and the first recorded history.

1177 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed*

When Civilisation Collapsed

The Histocrat (2019)

Film Review

I have always been morbidly fascinated by ancient history, largely because most public schools refuse to teach it. I wanted to major in ancient history at university but was scared off by the surplus of PhD cab drivers in the late sixties.

This intriguing documentary concerns a four-century “dark age” in the late Bronze Age between 1200 and 800 BC. It began when four powerful empires collapsed more or less simultaneously. Because literacy also collapsed, there is no written history describing this period. Thus nearly everything we know about it is based on archeological evidence and oral history Homer captured in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The four Bronze Age Empires that collapsed are Egypt, the Hittite empire (in Asia Minor), the Mycaenean empire (Greece), and the Assyrian empire (in Mesopotamia).

For several centuries prior to their demise, these prehistoric empires battled each other on their borders and traded territory back and forth.

Since the late 19th century, most historians have blamed their collapse on an invasion by mysterious “Sea Peoples.” However as laid out in this documentary, except at Troy (aka Ilium, aka Wilusa), there is no archeological evidence supporting a major military invasion.**

Based on contemporary archeological evidence, the film argues that a combination of natural disasters (earthquakes, droughts and famines) internal revolts, and a surge in sea piracy*** is a more likely explanation.

By the time written language reappeared in the 8th century BC, a number of new tribes and languages had appeared. Athenian and Dorian tribes had migrated into Greece, Phoenicians and Philistines had migrated into the Levant,**** the new kingdom of Lydia had expanded to cover most of Asia Minor. Assyria would ultimately expand to become the largest empire the world had seen.


*Professor Eric H. Cline’s book 1187 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed is credited as a main source for this documentary.

**According to archeological evidence, the Greco-Trojan war most likely occurred between 1300 and 1200 BC.

***All four empires were dependent on Mediterranean trade, especially for copper (from Asia Minor and Cyprus) and tin (from Afghanistan and the Balkans) needed to make bronze.

****Area including modern day Syria, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon.

 

The Civil War in Libya

The Lust for Libya: How a Nation Was Torn Apart Part 2

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

Part 2 of Lust for Libya links the 2011 “uprisings” in Libya to the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

It makes no mention of the CIA role in fomenting and arming the rebellion in Libya, along with the more peaceful 2001 Arab Spring “color revolutions.” See The Arab Spring: Made in the USA

I was surprised to learn the 2011 NATO bombing campaign was spearheaded by French president Nicolas Sarkozy (whose 2007 election campaign was financed by Gaddafi) and former UK prime minister David Cameron. It was they who approached the Obama administration as a third partner.

In total NATO bombers embarked on 20,000 sorties and 67,000 total bombings to virtually destroy Libya’s civilian infrastructure. With US intelligence support, rebel fighters captured, tortured and executed Gaddafi as he was fleeing Tripoli. With his demise, Libya became a failed state as it descended into a civil war between rival armed militias.

Libya’s National Oil Company and its central bank continued to operate, and for some bizarre reason the new de facto government (National Transition Council) granted a salary to all past and present militia fighters – a move that clearly fuels the ongoing war.

Libya has held a number of parliamentary elections since 2011, but none has been able to control the militias or effectively rebuild state institutions.

In 2015, the UN created the government of National Accord, which meets in Tripoli, although any government institutions that continue to operate are run by militias. A CIA-linked exile General Khalifa Hafter has created a rival government run by the Libyan National Army and which has seized the oil ports and all oil production.

France, the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are all supplying Hafter with weapons, in open violation of a UN arms embargo. Italy backs the Government of National Accord because they control natural gas resources Italy depends on – and, to some extent, the flow of African refugees departing from Libya for Italy.

Part 2 begins at 47 minutes.

Egypt’s Chronic Bread Shortages: How US Trade Deals Have Bankrupted Egypt’s Economy

Egypt on the Breadline

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This film is about Egypt’s chronic bread shortage and a corrupt system of subsidies that severely threatens the country’s food security.

Under Nasser (1956-1970), Egypt was self sufficient in wheat, its main staple crop. In the 1980s, as Egypt allied itself more closely with the US, farmers were pressured to grow export crops instead of wheat. The ultimate effect was to bankrupt Egypt’s economy, as it fell victim to global commodity prices and were forced to borrow to pay for wheat imports.

Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution and 2013 military coup have significantly reduced its productivity. 6,000 factories have closed and there has been a significant decrease in cultivated land.

The current government continues the pattern that emerged under the deposed dictator Mubarak. It allows government officials to monopolize Egypt’s imported wheat market, by setting a fixed price for wheat and flour that barely covers production costs.

At present, there are two main types of bread in Egypt. The first is government subsidized. Produced from imported flour, it has a fixed price of 10 cents per loaf. It’s widely described as “unfit for human consumption” – due to its tendency to contain insect parts, nails, cigarette butts and sand. The second type of bread is made from Egyptian-grown wheat and costs ten times as much.

Many analysts believe a skyrocketing increase in global fuel and food prices was a major trigger for the 2011 Arab Spring “revolutions.”

“Bread, freedom and social justice,” was a common chant in Tahir Square.