How Al Fadl Al-Barmaki Learned Bluntness And Generosity

Al Fadl Ibn Yahya al-Barmaki (A.D. 766—808) was a government official who served the most famous of all the Abbasid caliphs, the great but mercurial Harun al-Rashid.  Besides serving in several administrative posts (such as governor of Khurasan), he was also trusted enough to tutor Harun’s young son and heir al-Amin.  Although he later fell out of favor with the caliph, many stories are told of his generosity and kindness.

Continue reading

It Only Takes A Few Men To Change History

With the proper motivation and preparation, small numbers of men can do great things.  Numeric limitation is but one part of the equation.  This fact will be illustrated by a story that appears in Cornelius Nepos’s brief biography of a Theban commander named Pelopidas.

[To read the rest of the article, click here.]

 

My new book, Sallust:  The Conspiracy Of Catiline And The War Of Jugurtha, is now available.  Find out more by clicking here.

The Dangers Arising From One’s Subordinates: The Case Of Eumenes

No matter how much ability a commander may have, his purposes will ultimately come to nothing if he is surrounded by discontented or disloyal associates.  It was for this reason that, as the historian Sallust relates, the Roman general Metellus decided to send his disloyal subordinate Marius back to Rome.  A further example of this is provided by the career of the Greek general Eumenes of Cardia (362–316 B.C.).

Continue reading

The Assassination Of Leon Trotsky

For a time in the 1920s Leon Trotsky was second in importance in Soviet Russia only to Lenin himself.  Many believed him to be the natural choice to succeed Lenin.  But it was not to be; in the Byzantine power struggles that characterized Soviet politics, Trotsky would prove to be an amateur.  His personality—arrogant, dismissive, and lacking in tact and forbearance—would ensure that few voices were raised in his defense as Stalin slowly put him in a vice.  Trotsky was eventually stripped of his posts and forced into internal exile; he would eventually have to flee the country.

[To read the rest of the article, click here.]

The Great New York City Blackout Of 1977

I saw a program the other day about an event I previously had known little about:  the great New York blackout of 1977.  Something about the story left me with a distinct feeling of unease.  I don’t imagine many readers here are familiar with it, either.  Let me describe some of the details.

Continue reading

The Character Of Epaminondas

The great Theban general Epaminondas is most famous for his crushing victory over the Spartans in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 B.C.  With this battle the long military influence of Sparta on the Greek peninsula was brought to an end.  He was a man of few words; but when he did speak, his words were worth recording.  The historian Cornelius Nepos relates two anecdotes that are revealing of his character and temperament.

Continue reading

The Curious Customs Of The Franks: How One Arab Knight Saw The Crusaders

We have recently discussed a story from the life of the learned Ali Ibn Munqidh.  His grandson Usama Ibn Munqidh (1095–1188) was a very famous poet, warrior and literary figure in medieval Islam and his memoirs are an almost unique portal of insight on how one culture saw the other.  The scholar Philip Hitti describes Usama this way:

Continue reading