Monday, March 22, 2010

The Decline of Rome

Rome had the reputation of being unbeatable. It held it for one hundred and fifty years. By the mid-2nd century AD, though, it was showing signs of some wear and tear. Emperor Marcus Aurelius spent most of his time defending the vast empire. Rome had gotten too large. It was starting to fall apart. After Marcus Aurelius died, his son spent huge amounts of money on entertainment. He was killed, and so was his successor.

The job of emperor was sold to the highest bidder, but the winner was quickly replaced by Septimius Severus, who was a good ruler for 14 years. He was followed by other members of his family, who were all killed. After that followed a time that was hard for everyone. Taxes were high and many people became outlaws to avoid taxes. This time was called the "Anarchy".

Finally, there came a ruler who realized he couldn't control Rome, the Emperor Diocletian. He split it in half and gave the other half to a general named Maximian. Diocletian did a good job ruling, although he did work a little too hard to restore the status of emperor. He declared himself a god and wore a pearl crown, and made all visitors kneel and kiss his robe.

Then began the religion of Christianity. A Jewish carpenter named Jesus taught that people should give up their sinful ways and devote their lives to serving God and other people. He was, sadly, crucified by the Romans. The Jew were the people more responsible for that, actually, but that's a whole other story, which I will probably cover some other time. The Romans didn't like this new religion, which did not allow people to bow down to other gods, which meant they would not worship the state gods or the emperor. They were punished and often underwent horrific tortures.
But they would not give in. Christians worshiped in secret frequently.

After many years of rather insane rulers and rulers who hated Christians, Constantine became emperor of Rome. Once, before going into battle, he saw a cross in the sky. He believed it was a sign from God. He allowed the Christians to worship freely and was baptized on his deathbed.

Then came a time when barbarians began to invade. They aided Rome's fall like carbonation aids water in tasting like pop. Attila the Hun was one of the leaders of these tribes. He, as a young man, was exchanged with a young Roman man as a hostage. If the Huns attacked Rome, Rome would kill the hostage, and if Rome attacked the Huns, the Huns would kill their hostage. Attila spent his years in Rome learning strategies. He used this knowledge in his later campaigns. He was (and still is) known as a barbarian, who was merciless. But there are a few things he did that are not well known. He is considered a good man in Romania or Germany or somewhere in that area, because he was a sort of founder for a country somewhere around there. He was also known (then, anyway) for his generosity toward conquered cities (if they gave up willingly, of course). He also usually had a pretext for whatever he was doing. Once, a member of the emperor's family asked to marry him.(They must have suffered from bouts of insanity. No one with a brain would do that without a really good reason.) But her family found out and refused to let her. Attila used that as an excuse to attack Rome. Clever.

But Attila the Hun isn't the only one to blame for Rome's fall. There were other barbarians, too. And there were emperors who were so corrupt they were to blame partially. But no one has ever figured out a for sure reason why Rome collapsed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Insane Emperors

After Caesar was killed, his nephew, Octavian took the reins. He had been named Caesar's heir, and Caesar's supporters welcomed him. Unfortunately, Mark Antony, one of Caesar's close friends, also wanted the throne. Octavian and Antony made a truce, but it didn't last. They started fighting each other, until Octavian won. He didn't do anything to Antony though, because he was dead. Mark Antony had killed himself, not because of Octavian, but because of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. He had fallen in love with her and she had supported him during the war. But when she heard that Octavian had attacked Alexandria, the capital, she hid in the large, ornate tomb she had prepared for herself. Antony heard and assumed she was dead. He was so sad he tried to kill himself, he failed, but bled to death. Octavian captured Alexandria and decided to take the queen back as a war trophy. Supposedly, the queen killed herself rather than live without Antony. It is said she had a maid fetch some fruit-and a poison snake, an asp. She let it bite her. There are a few impossibilities in that story, but I'll tell you about those later.

The emperors made an amazing decline after Octavian died. They were undoubtedly insane. One, Caligula, is reputed to have made his horse a senator. He built it a special stable with an ivory manger. He also married several women in succession. He also made his soldiers attack the sea because he was angry with the god Neptune. (Yes, the planet that is blue is named after him. It possibly rains diamonds in there.) Emperor Caligula was, in my opinion, mad as a dozen march hares (and hatters, I might add.)

Now here's something about the most famous mad emperor, Nero. He supposedly set the great fire of Rome. I can't prove he did or didn't, but mostly everybody who's anybody in the world of historians says he did. But here's a few things that will shock and, hopefully, give you a picture of what kind of man he was, He killed his wife.(Why did he marry her, eh?) He also invited his mother to come visit him for a party. The catch? She had to sail there. Nero sent a boat to pick her up. It was rigged to kill her and her two friends. It malfunctioned, killing one of the friends, but the other ladies went overboard. One friend did a brave thing and cried that she was Nero's mother. The crew believed her and killed her with their oars. When back in Rome, the real mother sent word to Nero that she was alive. He sent assassins to kill her. When she saw them, she boldly told them to stab her in the stomach, where her son had come from.

Now, to the fire of Rome. Nero may or may not have set it, but we'll likely never know. It is said that " Nero fiddled while Rome burned". It wasn't considered respectable to be a musician in those days. But Nero did it anyway. He gave long concerts, and no one could leave until it was done. People would pretend to be dead so they could leave. But Nero did NOT fiddle. There were no violins to use at that time. He could have played his lyre, though, but there is a possibility that he tried to help put out fires.(I don't think anyone believes that). But the damage was decimating. Ten out of the fourteen districts of Rome were destroyed or badly damaged. The fire lasted nine days and started under the bleachers of the Circus Maximus. I think that's how you spell it, anyway. It was a chariot racing amphitheater. The chariot races were more popular than the gladiatorial games.(The ones where people and animals fought to the death.) We know that because of the seating. There was more seating at the races than at the Colosseum.

Well, anyway, Rome burned, and Nero commandeered large areas of Rome that were burned. He built a palace called the Golden House. One thing he needed, though, was someone to blame for the fire. He decided the best scapegoat was the Christians and conveniently blamed them. He sent thousands of people into the arena to be killed by wild animals. Not only were they a handy scapegoat, they refused to bow down to the state gods or to worship the emperor, which made Nero very angry. It's a wonder no one killed him. But no one did. He committed suicide.

Rome had its share of mad emperors, most of which are not mentioned because either I don't know enough about them to make this interesting or I don't remember what their name is or something like that. But these emperors were a part of the decline of Rome.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar is probably one of the most famous men to have ever lived. He was an amazing politician, a gifted leader and a skilled general. He was born to a wealthy family who claimed to be descended from the goddess Venus and a legendary hero named Aeneas, supposedly the ancestor of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. Caesar's father was a politician and his uncle was a consul - one of the two men who ruled Rome. Julius's father must have been given insight to the future (either that or he was good at making lucky guesses) as he often said Caesar would do great things. At a young age, Caesar was sent to a school where he learned reading, writing, math, and public speaking. And did he ever become good at that last one! If he gave a speech, lots of people came to listen. But he thought he needed more lessons in public speaking and decided to go to the most famous teacher around. Of course, there had to be a catch. The teacher lived in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. He paid to go there on a ship. Of course, something happened. The ship was captured by pirates, who held him for ransom. Caesar treated them like they were the prisoners, though. Finally, the government sent money for his ransom, and the pirates released him.

But that wasn't enough for Caesar. He decided to capture the pirates. He managed to borrow some soldiers and ships back in Rome and sailed after the pirates. He caught them and had them executed. This made people notice him more. His name was on everyone's lips. And he was in politics now. People were getting ready to vote for him!

Unfortunately, Caesar wanted to be a consul. And the positions was already filled. So Caesar was sent to govern the Romans who lived in Spain. Caesar was the type who wanted to be first in everything, but he settled for Spain. One day, on the way to Spain, he traveled through a rather disgusting village. One of Caesar's friends commented on it.
Caesar turned around and said, " I would rather be the most important man in this village than the second most important man in Rome."

One day, while in the library, Caesar began reading about the life of Alexander the Great. His friends were talking with him when they noticed he was no longer reading. He suddenly burst into tears. When asked why he was crying, he said it was because Alexander the Great had been king of several countries by the time he was Caesar's age, and Caesar hadn't accomplished anything great yet. (The pirate stunt was pretty good in my opinion. So was governing the Romans in Spain, with whom he was very popular.)

Finally, Caesar returned to Rome. He convinced the two consuls in Rome that he should be a consul as well. So the group of three leaders was known as the triumvirate. But the Senate didn't like this at all. What if he became king? Rome had once had kings. They had been tyrants. What would happen to Rome?

Caesar fought many battles away from Rome. Of course, he never told anyone about his losses, but there couldn't have been that many. His victories made him a hero in Rome - except to the senate. The senate knew the people would want Caesar to be king, but they didn't want that at all! They convinced another consul to turn against Caesar. It was difficult. After all, the consul, Pompey, had married Caesar's daughter, Julia. But Pompey gave in, and called Caesar a traitor. But Caesar returned. He halted at the Rubicon River. He crossed it, though, after considering what could happen.

In Rome, Pompey was trying to gather an army. Unfortunately, he had no success in doing so, and fled before Caesar reached Rome. Pompey went to Egypt to try to find help. But Egypt had two Pharaohs, Queen Cleopatra and her little brother, who didn't get along very well.(Both of them wanted to rule Egypt alone.) And when these two heard that Caesar was coming, they thought he was going to attack. They decided to play nice. What they did, though, was actually not nice. They caught Pompey and cut off his head, which went to Caesar. Caesar didn't really like that. He'd only wanted to imprison Pompey. But Queen Cleopatra invited him to visit. She showed him the treasures of Egypt. That and Cleopatra's beauty sort of convinced him to like her. (They had a son, you know!) Cleopatra's brother was killed and Cleopatra became the sole ruler of Egypt. Caesar was in love with her and stayed with her for a while.

When back in Rome, Caesar was made dictator for life. But he wanted to be called king so other countries would respect him more. One of Caesar's friends, a well-known fellow, name of Brutus, talked the other senate members into killing him. Some friend. On the day before they killed him, his horses wouldn't eat. He went to the temple to find out why. A fortune-teller whispered in his ear to beware the fifteenth of March. His wife had a dream that she was holding her dead husband, and he had been stabbed to death. (Actually, March 15 was yesterday as of this writing.) But Caesar went to the Senate anyway. When he came into the building, he sat down in his special chair. Brutus and two other senators attacked him and stabbed him to death. It is said they were so eager to stab him they hurt themselves trying to get to him. When he looked up, he saw his friend leaning over him. He spoke his somewhat famous final last words.
" Et tu, Brute?"
" You too, Brutus?"
One of the most amazing men in history had just been stabbed to death by one of his friends.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Soda Pop

Soda pop is the second most popular drink in the USA. Water comes first. Not at all surprising. 70% of all soda sales are cokes. Next comes lemon-lime. Just a little bit surprising. These are followed by pepper, root beer and orange soda. Other sodas make up 2-3% of all sales. I don't like that many kinds of pop. I hate coke and root beer. I like lemon-lime type sodas, orange sodas, sangria,(I think that's how you spell it; I've only seen it for sale in Mexico and California. I first tried it in Mexico) and some soda I had in Mexico.(I think it's called Manaza or something, I'm not sure.)

Pop is 90% water.(Tell that to your parents next time they tell you that sodas are bad for you. Well, they are, cola especially, as it is addictive due to caffeine content. If you have insomnia or cardiac disease, avoid it at all costs.) All soft drinks are bottled or canned at high pressure and low temperature. This allows for the soda to dissolve the maximum amount of gas(carbon dioxide, the stuff you breathe out. Not at all kidding.) I will now reveal the process of making soda.
1. Purify the water. Chemicals are added to the water to remove the flavor of chlorine or other minerals. It is then passed through a microscopic filter to remove impurities. Don't worry, the water is clean to begin with, but they purify it just in case.
2. Sweeten the water. 70% of all pop is sweetened with corn syrup. The other 30% is a chemical sweetener. It is usually only added to diet soda. Corn syrup is cheapest, though.
3. Add flavor and coloring. What they do depends on the type of soda.
4. Carbonation. The finished syrup is cooled and sprayed into a pressurized container of carbon dioxide. The water in the syrup dissolves the gas. The carbonized liquid is bottled, x-rayed for fullness and shipped.

All that work for a can of liquid.

If you add baking soda to juice, it will carbonate the juice and make it fizzy. But I wouldn't try it if I were you. When I tried it, it may have been fizzy, but the flavor was dreadful. You probably could find a recipe for something more tasty on the internet. Don't repeat my mistake.

Pop is really not that good for you. But I am not going to dwell on the drawbacks because, well, who wants to? I'll just tell you this. You would be very, very, very surprised. But there are a few good things. Here they are.

1. Water content
2.Speeds digestion

Some people find this stuff interesting.(Either that or there are some very bored scientists out there.)

So next time you open a bottle of pop, think about all that I've said. And don't tell your parents that soda can cause allergies and irritate the stomach.

In Los Angeles, there is a store called Galcos Soda Pop Stop. It is called this because it sells a lot of pop (like you can't guess that). I haven't seen the amount of soda varieties they sell, but it's probably fairly high. They stock all the kinds of pop you can't find in big stores. There's Bubble-up, an old kind which I've heard of being used for upset stomachs, and I wouldn't even guess at most of the other kinds. There is cucumber, which is supposed to be quite refreshing. There is even sodas made from flower petals. I would love to try one of those. There is all kinds of cherry sodas, too. They stock kosher coke around Passover. Why they have to make it kosher for the Jews I'll never know unless I look it up. How on earth do they conceive these ideas?!?!?!??!?!?!??!? There are a lot of different kinds of cherry soda. I couldn't even begin to start listing the different kinds unless I actually went there.(Which I might be doing on our way back from Mexico. We might be staying to do a few things in LA. Wouldn't it be fun?!)

You can order soda off the website, Now, if you'll excuse me, I think there's some club soda in the fridge... Tonic water, anyone?