Thursday, October 12, 2006

Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome

I just finished reading Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome. I am not a big fiction fan but I do read the occasional historical fiction or fantasy novel. I do not always like them. However, I found this book by Richard Harris to be excellent.

The book tells the story of Cicero in his early days in the Senate from 79 B.C. to 64 B.C. It highlights many of the actions of his rise to prominence in Rome including a good account of his successful prosecution of the former governor of Sicily, Verres. The book ends with Cicero's election as a Consul so there is plenty of room for a sequel.

The story is written from the point of view of Cicero' slave Tiro who himself is noted in history. He is credited with inventing shorthand so he could keep up with Cicero's frenzied dictations and speeches. Tiro also wrote a well regarded biography of Cicero which has been lost to history but is cited by other ancient historians.

Harris does try to make parallels between the days of the late Roman Republic and today without actually mentioning modern events. He writes in language which makes Pompey's successful passage of laws to have himself made sole military commander to fight the pirate menace seem to parallel the Bush Administration's laws and arguments to fight modern terrorism. The comparison of the two events separated by thousands of years is weak but will probably please those who think any historical event which can be made to conform to their current political views is "good history" and any historical analogy that disagrees with them is "bad history". Fortunately, Harris allows the reader to make this connection on his or her own and does not try to push this aspect of the book to far.

The book is obviously well researched. The details regarding Cicero's prosecutorial fact finding trip to Sicily and the trial of Verres show a great deal of scholarly searching on the part of Harris to write an accurate account. This is a short read (only 305 page) with a very readable author so I would recommend this book to ancient history fans.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

History of Mongolia

History of Mongolia. This is a brief history of the ancient Asian of Mongolia.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes, "Khalkha Mongolian Mongol Uls , also called Outer Mongolia country located in north-central Asia. It occupies an area of 604,000 square miles (1,565,000 square kilometres). Its shape is that of an elongated oval, measuring 1,486 miles (2,392 kilometres) from west to east and, at its maximum, 782 miles from north to south. Mongolia is bounded on the north by Russia and on the south by China. "

From the site:

In 1203 AD, a single Mongolian state was formed based on nomadic tribal groupings under the leadership of Genghis Khan. He and his immediate successors conquered nearly all of Asia and European Russia and sent armies as far as central Europe and Southeast Asia. Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan, who conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368 AD), gained fame in Europe through the writings of Marco Polo.

Although Mongol-led confederations sometimes exercised wide political power over their conquered territories, their strength declined rapidly after the Mongol dynasty in China was overthrown in 1368. The Manchus, a tribal group which conquered China in 1644 and formed the Qing dynasty, were able to bring Mongolia under Manchu control in 1691 as Outer Mongolia when the Khalkha Mongol nobles swore an oath of allegiance to the Manchu emperor. The Mongol rulers of Outer Mongolia enjoyed considerable autonomy under the Manchus, and all Chinese claims to Outer Mongolia following the establishment of the republic have rested on this oath. In 1727, Russia and Manchu China concluded the Treaty of Khiakta, delimiting the border between China and Mongolia that exists in large part today.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Death of Che Guevara: Declassified

The Death of Che Guevara: Declassified. Today is the 39th anniversary of the death of communist insurgent Che Guevara. The blogged site of the day has several declassified documents from the US government relating to Che Guevara and his death.

Guevara was involved with many insurgencies during his life. His most famous endeavor was his role in the Cuban Revolution and his early role in the communist Cuban government. However, he was also involved in other revolts including Congo, Guatemala, and Bolivia. It was the last where he met his end. American trained special forces in the Bolivian army captured him and then executed him.

On October 12, an American State Department analysis of Chi's death predicted, "Guevara will be eulogized as the model revolutionary who met a heroic death." This seems to have been an accurate assessment. However, the communist would probably be unhappy to see how commercial and marketed his image has become.

From the site:

On October 9th, 1967, Ernesto "Che" Guevara was put to death by Bolivian soldiers, trained, equipped and guided by U.S. Green Beret and CIA operatives. His execution remains a historic and controversial event; and thirty years later, the circumstances of his guerrilla foray into Bolivia, his capture, killing, and burial are still the subject of intense public interest and discussion around the world.

As part of the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, the National Security Archive's Cuba Documentation Project is posting a selection of key CIA, State Department, and Pentagon documentation relating to Guevara and his death. This electronic documents book is compiled from declassified records obtained by the National Security Archive, and by authors of two new books on Guevara: Jorge Castañeda's Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara (Knopf), and Henry Butterfield Ryan's The Fall of Che Guevara (Oxford University Press). The selected documents, presented in order of the events they depict, provide only a partial picture of U.S. intelligence and military assessments, reports and extensive operations to track and "destroy" Che Guevara's guerrillas in Bolivia; thousands of CIA and military records on Guevara remain classified. But they do offer significant and valuable information on the high-level U.S. interest in tracking his revolutionary activities, and U.S. and Bolivian actions leading up to his death.