Category Archives: Good and bad polytheists

Good and bad polytheists (part 9): Gaozu and Qin Shi Huang

GAOZU (born Liu Bang)

Emperor GaozuThe region where the early civilization of China flourished reminds us of Mesopotamia. It began in the far east along the Yellow River with the Xia Dynasty, and then expanded under the Shang Dynasty to include the Yangtze to the South. A third dynasty, the Zhou, then proceeded to overthrew their predecessors and ruled over a larger territory until 771 BCE. After that time, the Zhou kings lost power and their dominions gradually underwent fragmentation, until 475 BCE when four mature states began to engage in wars of domination. This situation, which is known as the period of Warring States, went on for several centuries, and was also accompanied by the competition of many philosophical schools, particularly Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism. A further complication arose when one of the four contending states, Jin, was divided into three parts following a civil war, one of which was the Han. This partition shook the balance of power and facilitated the domination of China. Consequently, within a hundred years, the intensity of alliances and wars increased. The Chu and Qin were the largest and most warlike of the states, although the Qin proved far more successful: They were victorious in most of their battles and they also claimed succession to China after they defeated the last remnants of the Zhou dynasty in 249 BCE. They afterwards fought for 25 years till they established the first empire of China. By this time, a peasant by the name of Liu Bang was already a young man providing feudal labor for the new Qin emperor.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 8): Vercingetorix and Brennus

VERCINGETORIX

Coin_VercingetorixThe Celts were a large ethnic group of peoples that inhabited what is today France, Britain, Western Spain, Austria, Bohemia, South Germany, North Italy, Belgium, Slovenia and parts of Croatia and Serbia. They were a warlike and fertile people who increased their numbers, expanded and migrated from time to time in search of land to accommodate them. Their culture, already beautiful, also benefited from trade and exchange with the south, and therefore by the 1st century BCE, we hear of large and prosperous cities in Gaul (the ancient word for France). By that time, they had already clashed several times with Rome in the north of Italy, because of pressure from expanding Germanic tribes to the north, and the Germans were also interested in expanding beyond the Rhine river. Unfortunately for them, not only the Germans were interested in expansion, but also the Romans, who had defeated the Carthaginian empire 100 years before and taken all their lands. The Celts thus fell between two powers and pressures. To make matters even worse, Rome in 59 BCE was under the power of two ambitious men of different parties: Pompey, who had lately returned from conquests in the east, stood with the senatorial faction, and Caesar, jealous of his victories, opposed him on the plebian side. Pompey was rich from conquests and new provinces, but Caesar was in debt from his consulship, because (among other reasons) he spent vast sums of money to feed the poor to increase his popularity. At first, Caesar, who was governor in North Italy, considered conquering Dacia (today Romania) in order to get out of debt and get into fame, but he found a better opportunity with the Celts to the North. In 58 BCE, the Helvetii, a confederation of five Celtic tribes inhabiting modern Switzerland, prepared for a migration to the west in order to avoid pressure from the Germans. There was news that their leader Orgetorix intended to rule all Gaul, but this may have been a rumor from Caesar to justify war. When the Helvetii requested peaceful passage through Roman territory in south Gaul, Caesar (the governor of the province) deliberately refused, knowing this would provoke war.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 7): Chanakya and Ashoka

CHANAKYA

arthshastra-350-x-225_041515115802[1]This Indian sage was a Brahmin (priestly teacher) who flourished in the latter part of the 4th century BCE. Several traditions attribute different events to his life, but it is universally agreed that he was, first, the counsellor of Chandragupta Maurya, the man who became the first emperor of India, and secondly, the author of the Arthashastra, a book on government, law, and kingship that the emperor followed. It is said that Chandragupta was born only a peasant, or according to another source, in the middle class of warriors, but Chanakya inspired him to raise an army and conquer his neighbors. Considering the bad effects of imperialism, condemned here in previous writings, this action might seem unjust and impious, hardly qualifying Chanakya as an example of a good polytheist. In reality, however, imperialism was (unfortunately, we must say) the best direction to take during that time, and Chanakya, as a priest, would have understood the case. Alexander III (commonly called Alexander the Great) had died a few years before in 323 BCE, and his failed attempt to conquer India was now repeated by his generals and governors. Seleucus Nicator was already emperor over a vast territory in the west by 312 BCE, and was threatening to add India, already partly controlled by governors left by Alexander, to his dominions. There is no positive evidence that Chanakya hated the invading Macedonians, but he must have been concerned about the fate of the Indian peoples if they were to become subjects to foreign powers and cultures, and therefore advocated an Indian empire as a response. And indeed, it was not too long before Chandragupta, after he had conquered some eastern territories and assassinated two governors of Alexander in India, clashed with Seleucus in 305 BCE. The subsequent war lasted for a short time, and because Chandragupta had a powerful and well-trained army, it ended on good terms, where Seleucus agreed to marry his daughter to him, in return for several hundred elephants, useful for Seleucus’ ambitions in the west.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 6): Phillip II and Alexander III

PHILLIP II

Philip1[1]The 4th century BCE was an age of such decline and decay for the Greeks, that it became difficult for any notable person, whose name is recorded in history, to be considered truly as a good polytheist, except in comparison with bad ones. The huge Peloponnesian War of the preceding century, which had raged for 20 years between Athens and Sparta, resulted from ambitious greed and moral corruption, causing great destruction throughout Greece. This horrible war and dangerous decay was anticipated by the Second Sacred War, a conflict that broke out between Athens and Sparta in 449 BCE, each striving to control the pre-eminent religious sanctuary in Delphi for its own interests. During the middle of the 5th century also, we also see the rise of philosophy in Greece and its defiance to traditional polytheism, most especially in Athens with such characters as Protogoras, Antiphon the Sophist, Hippias, Diagoras of Melos, and to some degree, Socrates and Euripides, among others. The old conflict between the Greeks and the Persians was now forgotten as the Greek city-states fought amongst one another for domination, especially Athens and Sparta. In 371 BCE, the situation grew more complicated when Thebes entered as a third great player in the game for the domination of Greece, after defeating their Spartan rival in battle and capturing large territories. About this time, when Thebes invaded the northern region of Thessaly, bordering on Macedonia, a young Phillip II of Macedon, the future father of the famous Alexander, was taken as a hostage to be raised up in Thebes, where he received a fine military education.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 5): Potitus & Barbatus, and Appius Claudius Crassus

POTITUS & BARBATUS

roman_eagle_design_by_erebus74-d4t2bly[1]Lucius Valerius Potitus and Marcus Horatius Barbatus were two senators who distinguished themselves during the troublesome time of the Decemviri as well as the secession of the Plebeians in 449 BCE. Conflicts between the aristocratic senate and the common citizens of Rome had increased since the overthrow of the monarchy in 509 BCE, and in time the bad blood in the state made the Plebeians (or common citizens) secede, or break away, in 494 BCE. Although the troubles ended when the senate conceded some power by the formation of the office of Tribune of the Plebeians, with inviolable privileges, new disturbances began to brew about forty years later. Because Rome was not in a condition for civil broils during a time of war with its neighbors, it was determined by the senate to appoint a special committee of 10 men to establish a code of laws that would prevent future disagreement at home. These men, who were all senators, were called the decemviri, and were given extraordinary powers for each term in office, which lasted one year. However, upon the end of their second term in 450 BCE, they remained in office by force and suspended indefinitely the office of Plebian Tribune as well as the Plebian right to appeal.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 4): Herodotus and Empedocles

HERODOTUS

220px-Herodotos_Met_91.8This is the great father of history, who flourished in the middle of the 5th century BCE. He was born a subject of Persia in the Ionian city of Halicarnassus, and from there he may have witnessed, as a young boy, some preparations for the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BCE, which the treacherous queen of the city took part in on the side of Xerxes. What is certain, however, is that he grew up among veterans of both the Ionian revolt of 499 BCE against Persia and (after he left his city) veterans of the Persian invasion. He also seems to have belonged to a patriotic family, because his cousin Panyassis (a poet of some renown) was executed after an uprising in Halicarnassus, against a treacherous Greek tyrant. Nevertheless, whether he left the city by force or by curiosity is not known; as a subject of Persia, he probably thought little of his citizenship within such a vast empire, or at least wondered what had happened to change his world so much. His interest in the event surely drove him to gather and consume many stories, but he was also concerned about various inquiries, especially how and why could Persia, as far as it was in another part of the world, come at the door of Greece and attempt to break through it? For this reason, he composed a work called ‘Ιστοριαι, meaning Inquiries, but more commonly translated as Histories.

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Good and bad polytheists (part 3): Homer and Orpheus

HOMER

Homer

Although there is little that we can be certain of regarding the life of this man, his immense influence on the Hellenic people by means of his epic poems is the essence of what ought to be considered. It is generally thought that he was a blind poet who flourished in the 9th or 8th century BCE. Like others of his profession, he composed poems orally and travelled to recite them for pay, especially at festivals or in the houses of nobles. Sometime after his death, his epic poems, the famous Illiad and Odyssey, were written and preserved for posterity. They concerned a remarkable time in Greek history, when, 400 years before, during the Bronze Age, a great war broke out between several Greek states and the city of Troy, which afterwards spread further; the first poem relates the events of the war, and the second the return of the king Odysseus home, after the siege of Troy. After they were written, the poems rose to such fame and admiration for many centuries, that they actually inspired and educated the Greek peoples more than any author before, and hence were almost considered as a sacred authority to learn from.

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