Master of Rome

Cracks in the Marble: Netflix’s Roman Empire: Master of Rome

While we are officially historians of the modern era, faithful readers of this blog will know that both of us are part-time Classicists, and so it should come as no surprise that we welcomed a new season of Netflix’s docudrama series Roman Empire (previously thought to be only a miniseries) with open arms. The new season, subtitled Master of Rome, focuses on the life and exploits of the most famous Roman, one of the most famous people, to ever live: Julius Caesar. We must confess, we were both a bit disappointed by this. The decision to focus Roman Empire’s first season, Reign of Blood, on Commodus at least expanded upon a lesser known figure; Julius Caesar is in no need of such a treatment. Indeed, if you’re looking for an excellent dramatic adaptation of Caesar’s rise and fall, HBO’s Rome will scratch that itch all day. Unfortunately, our disappointment with Roman Empire’s second season did not end with its choice of subject matter.... Read More
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In Defense of the Rock: Roy and Lesley Adkins’s Gibraltar

We Americans have a habit of paying closer attention to our own history than what goes on in the outside world. Perhaps we can be forgiven for doing so concerning our own war for independence, but even here there is a global story to be told that does not regularly appear in American narratives of the conflict. France and, later, Spain’s entry into the conflict on the side of the fledgling United States made the American Revolution a successor of the Seven Years War, known as the French and Indian War in America, with fighting taking place wherever the map bore British red. Roy and Lesley Adkins bring one of these disparate theaters to light after years of neglect. The American Revolution occasioned one of the longest, fiercest battles in British history as the Empire fought to maintain control over one of its tiniest outposts: the Rock of Gibraltar.... Read More
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What’s in a World War, Part II: Let’s Shorten This Up a Bit

Years ago, in my American Military History class at Gettysburg, our professor began our foray into the Second World War with a curious statement: World War II should actually be considered to have begun in 1937, with the Japanese invasion of China. While normally I would applaud efforts to reduce Eurocentrism and emphasize global connections, I internally scoffed at what I then (and still) considered to be a ridiculous notion. The whole world was not at war yet, only Japan and China; how then could you say that the Second World War had begun? This memory was called to mind recently as Kevin and I reflected on how we define world wars and global conflicts in modern history (found here), and my thoughts began to wander to other, less orthodox, conclusions. Though Kevin and I did not exactly agree on a precise definition of a ‘world war,’ we did agree on three general criteria. Perhaps the most fundamental of these, and the starting point of our debate, was the scope of fighting. A world war is typically a war in which fighting occurs across most of the world. We even later reach the conclusion that this fighting must be connected in some way, as part of a single, cohesive war effort. I was led further and further towards a daring question: if Japan and China’s isolated fight should not count as the beginning of World War II, why should Britain, France, and Germany’s?... Read More
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What’s in a World War? A Point/Counterpoint

What if I told you that what we know as the First and Second World Wars should really be known as the Second and Third, or even the Third and Fourth? Our habit of only identifying the conflicts that took place from 1914-18 and 1939-45 as ‘world wars’ betrays a modern arrogance, that somehow the world only reached the capacity for global conflicts recently, within the last century. My own work with imperial history has indicated that this is far from the truth... Read More
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The Why of It All, Part II: The Worst Question in History

“What was the American Civil War about?” This question has bedeviled American historians and, indeed, the American public for over a century. Its battlefields are endless, and, for many people, the answer that you provide determines whether you are a Knowledgeable or Ignorant Person. I’ve certainly been involved in more than my share of skirmishes, so it probably isn’t a surprise to hear me say that I hate this question. What may be surprising, however, is my reasoning.... Read More
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Faithful, with Liberties: Netflix’s Troy: Fall of a City

Regular readers of Concerning History will be well aware of my affinity for the swords and sandals genre. It should come as no surprise, then, that my ears perked up when learning of the new South African/Netflix miniseries Troy: Fall of a City. My previous review of the movie Troy (found here) acknowledged that that film took great liberties with its ancient source material, sometimes for the best. An epic poem on the level of the Iliad is impossible to adapt in only two or so hours; would 8 hours of television serve better to bring Homer’s vision to the screen? The answer turned out to be both emphatically yes and emphatically meh.... Read More
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Making History, Marking History: The Great Anniversaries of 2018

To mark the first anniversary of Concerning History, we’re taking a look at some of the major historical moments being commemorated this year and providing some recommendations for further reading. There are plenty of other events out there worth marking, however, so if you have one you think we should have included, we invite you to scroll down to the comments and share it with us.... Read More
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The Why of it All: Searching for Meaning in Historical Wars

This past Wednesday, Heather, Ryan, and I had the pleasure of attending a talk delivered by Dr. Ian Isherwood at our alma mater, Gettysburg College. Dr. Isherwood has been a great friend and mentor to all of us here at Concerning History, and his talk dealt with a subject he has worked with extensively as part of his own historical specialization: the supposed futility of the First World War. The historiography and public perception of that war has traditionally been filled with lamentations of a pointless war, one fought for no real purpose and resulting in a meaningless peace settlement. While historians have admirably pushed back against these ideas in recent decades, public perception of the Great War remains very much filled with images and language of futility. On some level, this is certainly understandable. One cannot avoid pictures of the hellish conditions on the Western Front, and the outbreak of the Second World War only twenty years later would seem to indicate that the resolution of the First had been a failure. Listening to Dr. Isherwood lecture on the subject, however, I began to wonder why this was even a discussion in the first place. Why must we invest wars with a higher meaning? Where does this impulse come from? And why, for whatever reason, does the First World War fall short of our collective expectations?... Read More
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A Daunting Scope: Peter Heather’s Empires and Barbarians

Snapshots of Europe taken at the beginning and end of the first millennium AD could not appear more different. As the millennium opened, Rome was just reaching the apex of its imperial might. The traditionally dominant Mediterranean world extended its tendrils of control across the Celtic world of modern-day France and lowland Britain, while beyond the Rhine and Danube frontiers Germanic peoples pursued a subsistence existence much less developed than their Roman and Romanized neighbors. One thousand years later, Mediterranean dominance was a distant memory. Germanic cultures and kingdoms had replaced Roman imperial rule. Europe’s center of balance had moved decidedly northward, and the eastern plains and forests boasted new states formed by Slavic peoples. Gone was the unequal pattern of development, and the map of modern Europe had largely, if blurrily, taken shape. This Late Antique/Early Medieval period, as Western Rome crumbled and fell, and ‘barbarian’ kingdoms took its place, has long fascinated me, and so I was excited to get my hands on a somewhat general, approachable history of the period by Kings College, London historian Peter Heather. While I found Heather’s work greatly informative, my hopes of reading a sensible, comprehensive narrative of this period were unfortunately left unfulfilled.... Read More
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Definitely Not the Poem: Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy

I positively love the movie Troy. This will be sacrilege to many people, including my high school Latin teacher. Some find its characters and story too overblown or campy, while for adherents of Homer and his classical epics, the movie is a travesty that bears only the most topical similarity to the Iliad. I can’t argue either of these points (though I might temper the first), but I find this film incredibly captivating in spite, and in many cases because, of them.... Read More