Category Archive 'Attila'

01 Sep 2009

The Scourge of Contemporary Historiography

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Eugéne Delacroix (1798-1863), Atilla suivi de ses hordes, foule aux pieds libéralisme, Marxisme, et pacifisme, Bibliothèque, Palais Bourbon, Paris, 1843-47

Edward Luttwak, reviewing in the New Republic Christopher Kelly’s The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome, pauses to remark on the problems inherent in the myopic historical perspective regnant in contemporary Academia.

In our day, many historians do not have a problem with Attila or any other “Great Man of History.” They accept the very personal role of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the rest in shaping history, “bottom-up” history notwithstanding; and so they can accept Attila’s importance as a historical factor as their Marxist predecessors could not. But they have a terrific problem with the Huns, and the reason for this is simple. It is the nullification of military historiography in contemporary academia. “Strategy” exists in a few government or political science departments, but such “strategists” steer clear of military history. The academic consensus that all wars are pointless apparently extends also to the study of their history.

There is almost no place, and almost no prestige, for anyone who wants to research and teach how and why battles and wars were won or lost–that is, military history strictly defined–as opposed to social history, economic history, and some forms of political history, including newly rehabilitated biographical approaches but excluding “kings and battles.” Even research on “presidents and wars” is unwelcome unless there are cognitive or psychological pathologies to be studied. And there is the added impediment that military historiography is an arcane field, requiring serious archival research, often in languages other than English.

While scholarly readers have an insatiable demand for military historiography, and students are very keenly interested in battles and wars, the faculties at our universities prefer to scant both. Appoint a military historian? The eminent Chicago Byzantinist Walter Emil Kaegi has explained why it almost never happens: tactics cannot matter, weapon techniques cannot matter, operational methods cannot matter, theater strategies cannot matter, because wars do not matter–as a subject of their own, rather than as epiphenomenal expressions of other causes and realities. Given the academic consensus that wars are almost entirely decided by social, economic, and political factors, there is simply no room for military history as such.

That makes it impossible to explain why anyone would have been bothered by the arrival of the Huns. …

The days are past when Christianity, poisoning by lead pipes, or any other cause could be invoked to explain the fall of one-half of the Roman Empire while disregarding the survival of the other half, though it was just as Christian or just as poisoned. Only the possibility that a military difference, a difference in strategy between east and west, might have determined the outcome has remained unexplored–until now

03 Aug 2009

Lost Roman City of Altinum

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Infrared and variable wavelength aerial photography reveal the outlines of the lost city

The Roman city of Altinum is one of the rare ancient cities of importance not continuously inhabited and built over in modern times.

The city’s history went back far into Antiquity. It was already a significant commercial center in the 5th century B.C. Its mild climate attracted wealthy Romans who built luxury villas there, mentioned by Martial. Marcus Aurelius’ co-emperor Lucius Verus perished during an epidemic at Altinum. In the Christian era, Altinum was the seat of a bishopric.

The history of Altinum came to an abrupt end when the city was destroyed by Attila the Hun in 452 A.D. Its inhabitants fled to nearby coastal islands where they founded what became the city of Venice.

Daily Mail:

(T)hanks to sophisticated aerial imagery, the lost city has been brought to life once again more than 1,500 years on.

From the ground, the 100-hectare site just north of Italy’s Venice airport looks like nothing more than rolling fields of corn and soybeans.

But researchers have managed to map out the remains of the buried city, revealing a detailed street plan of the city walls, the street network, dwellings, theatres and other structures.

They also show a complex network of rivers and canals, revealing how the people mastered the marshy environment in what is now the lagoon of Venice.

In July 2007 Paolo Mozzi, a geomorphologist at the University of Padua in Italy, and his team took aerial photos of the site in several wavelengths of visible light and in near-infrared.

The photos were taken during a severe drought in 2007, which made it possible to pick up the presence of stones, bricks and other solid structures beneath the surface.

When the images were processed to tease out subtle variations in plant water stress, a buried metropolis emerged.

The BBC story has animated video flyover.


Eugéne Delacroix (1798-1863), Atilla suivi de ses hordes, foule aux pieds l’Italie et les arts (Attila followed by his Horde, Trampling under Foot Italy and the Arts), Bibliothèque, Palais Bourbon, Paris, 1843-47


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