Archive for November, 2007

Cambodia’s Warrior Princesses? (1 – 400 AD)

By: The Scribe on November, 2007

Five female skeletons were discovered at this Cambodian burial site with weapons, leading researchers to believe that female warriors played an active role in the society.

At the site of Phum Snay in northwestern Cambodia, archaeologists uncovered a group of 35 skeletons, believed to date between the first and fifth centuries AD. The unusual aspect of the burial, however, was that five of the skeletons were females – and all of them were buried together with bronze or steel swords and helmet-like objects.

In an era and location where women were supposed to have played a more ‘traditional’ role in society – these were villages of fishermen and rice-farmers, where women tended the household and were responsible for mending clothes, caring for children, and food preparation – finding battle objects with female bodies was quite surprising.

The burials seem to suggest that this area of Cambodia was a place where female warriors played an active role in the society – and the find-spots of the skeletons in prominent locations within the tomb also indicates that these women were held in high regard, at least to some degree.

Of course, before any theories can be made absolute, it is probably best to wait until more investigation is done on the women’s bones – if the skeletons show signs of cut marks and other battle-related damages or injuries, then it is likely that the theory of Cambodia’s version of ‘Amazon’ warriors may actually ring true.

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Tomorrow: Mummy Lion

The Last Pagan Emperor of Rome – Part 4/3: Final Resignation (331 – 363 AD)

By: The Scribe on November, 2007

This column in Ankara was erected in 362 AD, after the Emperor’s visit to the city as he made his way to the frontier of the Sassanid Empire in Persia.Although Julian the Apostate `did everything he could to try and elevate paganism again in the eyes of the general populace, the Christian churches continued to have a high degree of influence because of their public charities. Christian charities were beneficial to all citizens of Rome, and the Emperor found this to be greatly disconcerting – they fed both Christian and pagan poor, welcomed everyone with open arms, and were compassionate toward the less fortunate, whereas the pagan priests were moreso preoccupied with neglecting the poor, a fact which certainly didn’t escape Julian’s attention.

In an effort to fight back, Julian envisioned a philanthropic system for the Roman Empire that would reduce pagan reliance on Christian charitable organizations, but it wasn’t as well received by pagan priests and followers as he would have liked – instead, he watched as contempt grew for the old gods. His plan was designed to ensure that all aspects of citizenry were connected through varying levels of society, all the way up to the consolidated figure of power in the Emperor, who was the “final provider” for all his peoples’ needs. Christian charity simply didn’t fit into this hierarchy.

On a trip through Jerusalem in 363 AD, Julian made a brief stop at the ruins of the Second Temple. Naturally, since he was committed to elevating any other religion over Christianity, he decreed that the Temple was to be rebuilt – however, a series of disasters struck during the initial phases of the project, and thus the rebuilding efforts were abandoned. It also didn’t help that the Jews were rather ambivalent toward the idea in the first place.

It was on that same trip that Julian moved to engage the Sassanid Empire of Persia, in hope that he would be able to take back the cities under Sassanid rule that his cousin – Constantius II – had been unable to regain. He was encouraged to move forward with the campaign after receiving an oracle from the Sibylline books, and entered Persia with 90,000 men. A skilled military leader, Julian easily conquered several smaller cities and decimated the initial waves of troops, but even after winning the Battle of Ctesiphon in front of the capital city, he was unable to enter and gain control of the city itself.

Julian decided to lead his army back to the safety of the Roman border, at least until reinforcements arrived. They were pursued during the retreat and engaged by Sassanid troops, and it was during one of these battles that Julian received a spear wound that pierced through the bottom of his liver and intestines. Although the wound itself wasn’t initially fatal, his personal physician Oribasius of Pergamum was unable to treat it successfully. He likely tried to irrigate it with red wine and also suture the intestine, but it was to no avail – Julian the Apostate died on June 23, 363 AD.

Although it is unknown whether the tale is pure myth or an actual battle report, the traditional story goes that as Julian lay on his deathbed, his dying words were: “Vicisti, Galilee”- which translates as “you have won, Galilean” – a supposed resignation from the last pagan Emperor that Christianity had won out as the state religion of Rome.

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Tomorrow: Cambodian Warrior Princess

The Last Pagan Emperor of Rome – Part 3/3: Religious Reform (331 – 363 AD)

By: The Scribe on November, 2007

A painting of Julian the Apostate presiding over a conference of sectarians, painted by Edward Armitage in 1875.

As ‘Julian the Apostate’ began his religious transformation of the state, his new position as Emperor allowed him to force Christian churches to accept pagan practices as normative among the local population – first, forcing the Churches to either return the riches which had been looted from pagan temples since Constantine’s legislation of Christianity of the official religion of Rome, or paying fines that were equal to what had been taken.

A supporter of the polytheistic ‘old Roman faith’, he claimed that he didn’t want to end up like his cousin and turn into someone who forced one religion on people over another, but he did state that his laws – which tended to specifically target Christians who were well educated and wealthy – were designed not to destroy Christianity, but to do everything imaginable to drive it out of the empire’s governing classes.

Christian bishops lost much of their influence on public offices as well as their ability travel for free at Rome’s expense, and lands which had been taken over by the church were given back to the original landowners. In order to convince the public that he had its best interests at heart, Julian handed down an edict in 362 AD that guaranteed freedom of religion to the populace – according to the edict, all religions were held equal in the eyes of the law, and it was in Rome’s best interest to return to its former days of religious eclecticism, wherein no one was forced to accept one religion over the other in any corner of the Empire.

Although Julian wouldn’t come right out and admit that his actions or laws were undermining Christianity, the fact remained that he knew very well that previous persecutions of Christians by Roman Emperors only strengthened the people who believed – and thus he designed his campaign to harass them and cause difficulty for Christians who might try to resist the re-establishment of paganism as an acceptable belief system.

The Orthodox Church even claims that Julian prohibited the worship or veneration of Christian relics, remembering two men as saints – Maximos and Juventinus – who were apparently part of the imperial guard of the Emperor. They openly opposed Julian’s edict against sacred relics, and according to tradition, Julian ordered them executed. In another edict simply known as ‘School Edict’, Julian also forbid Christian teachers from using pagan literature – such as the classical works of the Iliad and the Odyssey – and limited them to using the gospels such as Mark or Luke to each reading and writing. This severely harmed teachers and educators, since it meant fewer students – no one wanted their child educated in such a limiting environment.

The problem was, not everyone was so willing to take back the pagan ways, and it certainly didn’t help the Emperor’s cause that the Christian churches continued to raise funds to help the poor and care for the community, regardless of whether someone was Christian or pagan…

…to be continued…

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Tomorrow: Part…four?!

The Last Pagan Emperor of Rome – Part 2/3: Payback (331 – 363 AD)

By: The Scribe on November, 2007

After gaining power, Julian rebelled against the teachings that had been forced on him as a child.In his new position of power, Julian found himself to be a capable and strong military leader who was able to fend off the Germanic tribes that had troubled Rome for quite some time. He had several major victories – such as the Battle of Strasbourg in 358, winning back Cologne in 356, and defeating the Salian Franks along the Rhine – while also handling domestic affairs such as preventing tax increases and taking care of some provincial administration.

Constantius II was still making his own trouble during this time, and at one point ordered Julius to send some of his own Gallic troops over for support. The troops were not exactly receptive to the idea of leaving the commander they respected and admired for an emperor who had usurped the seat of power, and so the troops of the Petulantes proclaimed Julian the emperor in Paris. This provided Julian with a strategic vantage point from which to round up additional allegiances.

Several months later, Constantius was still causing problems, and captured a city along the northern Adriatic coast – and although he likely expected support from his co-leader of the Empire, he received a rather nasty shock. Recalling what had been done to his family by Constantius II, Julian allowed 23,000 of his own loyal troops to besiege the city. For a short time, the threat of civil war loomed as the armies of both leaders were in opposition – but fortunately for Julian, Constatius died of fever, leaving behind a final will that recognized Julian as the rightful successor.

As the new ruler of the Roman Empire, Julian moved to try and put the Empire back in order: first, he reduced the expenses of the imperial offices by eliminating all the eunuchs who had previously served administrative roles. Secondly, unnecessary luxuries were removed, and the amount of servants and guards were reduced to only as many as were needed. And as the next order of business… he began the Chalcedon Tribunal, where a number of Constantius II’s followers were tortured and killed.

Still bitter about his childhood, Julian was finally able to reject the religious teachings that had been forced upon him by the man who had murdered his family. Private letters between Julian and the pagan rhetorician Libanius reveal an Emperor who deeply resented the Christianity that he was forced to accept while young, since Constantius II refused to tolerate any pagan relatives.

Julian quickly developed a passion for art, literature, and Greek mythology, soon becoming an official convert to the philosophies of Hellenism. Whether he realized it or not, Julian was an Emperor with a strong religious temperament – only he was passionate for something different than his cousin had been – and he became somewhat of a pantheistic mystic after the fashion of contemporary Neoplatonist philosophers.

Julian’s intention was to conduct a religious transformation of the Roman state, however there was a danger in this – although he’d rebelled against the forceful and zealous nature of his cousin’s Christian beliefs, would his new passion for traditional paganism cause that to be forced upon others in the same way?

…to be continued…

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Tomorrow: Part 3 of course!

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