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Saturday, February 18, 2017
The women of Late Antiquity
A decade and a half ago, Judith Koren and Prometheus Books finally sent Yehuda Nevo's Crossroads to Islam to the printers. This book mused that Constantinople - after ensuring the end of her rival empire, Iran - sabotaged her own empire. This morning I have read "Dystopic's" essay RadFems, Cenobites, and the Lament Configuration. In the course of blasting our wretched and decadent excuse for a civilisation, it suggests the Bayesian hypothesis that its precedessor Rome fell because someone
Suppose we bring these two suggestions of self-sabotage together, to the Eastern Roman Empire of the 10s / 630s. I admit, on the part of Koren and Nevo, their thesis did attract critics: some of them ad-hominem and stupid, but not all. But maybe their argument just wasn't complete - specifically, half complete.
The Rhomania did still have its Spartans. Heraclius Basileus was one. He even found some Athenians worthy of Marathon, like George of Pisidia. Unfortunately he took them with him on campaign.
Nevo and Koren were looking at people who don't leave the city much. For seventh-century Constantinople this describes mainly fops and eunuchs; but women behaved the same. Admittedly back then, women weren't fighting directly - although they could certainly fire some missiles during the odd riot. And they weren't setting policy, especially not under Heraclius whose main object of desire was, er, his own niece Martina. But women have their ways and wiles.
Above all women can tell men what they want. I observe around Boulder that the women here don't care about theology for its own sake, like a man might. They do purge heretics, but only where their own status is at stake (heretics here bear the labels "racist" or "Republican", &c.). Mostly I see those COEXIST stickers. They're signalling that they're bored with those judgey boring hypocritical Christians DAD. If it happens now, it happened then...
What we know of the city back home is that the young men there were posturing as chariot-race hooligans. In Justinian I's time they were even wearing their hair like the Huns did. Justinian nearly lost his crown to the Green circus faction (the emperor himself was Team Blue). Maurice, later, did lose his crown, and his life with it. If you know men at all you'll know that they do very little out of the ordinary unless, instinctively, they know their women respond to it. Some Late Roman men did don the uniform of their own nation, and went to war for it, but it was always rare that the men of the cities would do it - the army found better pickings in the countryside. Too many city men would return to find their women with some other stupid hooligan.
Country men stood a chance to returning to the arms of their loved ones - but circa 600 AD, we're not yet at the Theme System. Constantinople was still New Rome over a still-urban Mediterranean Empire.
Women could signal to their men that it wasn't worth their while to go defend Syria and Egypt from those dashing desert rogues. In those provinces themselves, they could whisper in their churches that the Monothelete controversy wasn't their problem, we are all under one God and blahdiddy blah blah. And their men, next time the Blues and Greens met in the circus, would dress up like Arabs. After all... if it happened then, it will happen now.
UPDATE 3/25: Z-man puzzles over the Lament Configuration. Women with naught better to do will seek out and/or create drama.
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