on ancient superweapons, pt 2

Last time we looked at some of the more well-known ‘superweapons’ of the ancient classical world: war elephants and scythed chariots. This time we finish our look at ancient superweapons with some of the more inconspicuous and obscure (though still spectacular):

Cataphracts
Used by Heavily-armoured (or ‘fully covered’ in the original Greek), lance-armed cavalry riding large, sometimes armoured, chargers were used by many different armies of the ancient world: most notably the Parthians and Sassanid Persians; the Palmyrenes in the 3rd century; also used occasionally by the Romans (mostly in their later imperial period, as at the Battle of Strasbourg). Used extensively by ancient steppe cultures (Alans, Sarmatians, etc), as well as by the Hellenistic kingdoms of the east (most notably the Seleukids at the Battle of Magnesia).
Continue reading “on ancient superweapons, pt 2”

on ancient superweapons, pt 1

Hollywood and TV like to portray ancient warfare as an orgy of oiled muscles, whirling blades and decapitations. While it sometimes was like that, it was usually much more mundane. Prof. P Sabin likened the mechanics of the average ancient battle to a modern riot – opposing sides often stood at a distance hurling war cries (and missiles) at each other, and only closed distance when one side was sufficiently psyched to advance. Fear was often your greatest weapon. Ideally one side would stand down and retreat without even having to come to blows (though this rarely happened in large battles involving hundreds of thousands of men). Continue reading “on ancient superweapons, pt 1”

on Lieutenant Dan

I share a name with Lieutenant Dan, a character from the film Forrest Gump. My mother has always teased me that we share a few more things than that: a soldier’s spirit, a love of glory, and a dangerous stubbornness. Lieutenant Dan is a soldier from a long line of soldiers. It makes him do his job well, but as events in the film unfold, you see that it haunts and crushes him. Now I’ve always thought that one of the best qualities of Forrest Gump is the way you see something new each time you watch; when I was younger I never quite saw anything of myself in Lieutenant Dan; he was a tragic but comical man who ain’t got no legs, but in the end makes his peace with God and moves on.

But watching the film again recently, I was haunted too by something he said after confronting Forrest Gump about his new disability: “What am I gonna do now?” Continue reading “on Lieutenant Dan”

on the nazi occult and evil

I’ve always had a morbid interest in the Nazi occult. Something about the inherent evil of the regime coupled with the possibility that it tapped supernatural forces to further its goals. Add to that the kookiness of the whole thing, the weird personalities involved, the freaky science, the esoteric history and mysticism behind the runes and artifacts, and the terrible majesty of the Nazi war machine, and you have something darkly fascinating.

Now one idea related to the Nazi occult is the Fourth Reich – the possibility that some remnant of the Nazi regime survived 1945 and went into hiding, possibly in South America, Antarctica, the centre of the earth, on the Moon (the possibilities get sillier each time), and has been secretly plotting revenge. So of course this idea is rich fodder for all sorts of fiction. Now my interest led me to two particular comic book series: M Mignola’s Hellboy, and K Hirano’s Hellsing. Both involve some kind of Fourth Reich (in the former, an occult-obsessed fifth column guided by evil gods, and in the latter, genetically-engineered, vampiric panzergrenadiers), and oddly enough both shed some useful light on evil. Continue reading “on the nazi occult and evil”

on believing in God

Disney’s Aladdin is flawed in a lot of ways – the cheesy story, the sometimes comically inappropriate racism (though to be fair things were a bit different in the 90s) – but in lots of ways it’s a great movie.

One line has always stuck in my head though: when Aladdin (or Prince Ali at this point) invites Princess Jasmine for a magic carpet ride, he asks her “do you trust me?”

That line for me holds a lot of theological water when we think about our faith. At times we’ve made it all a bit hard to understand, or we’ve made ‘believing in God’ a mark of faith without really defining what said belief means. What does believing in God mean? Believing he exists? Believing he wants the best for me? But I think at the heart of that concept and of our faith is that same, simple question.

Do you trust me? Continue reading “on believing in God”

on looking out in despair

You remember that scene in Return of the King where Denethor pines over the mortally-wounded Faramir? He thinks his biggest problem is that his son is dead and his line extinguished, but he walks to the edge of the cliff and sees that it’s much worse: the host of Mordor is at the gates and he’s had no idea. And so he despairs, telling his soldiers “Flee! Flee for your lives!” Continue reading “on looking out in despair”

on space jesus

I recently watched Man of Steel, and holy moly what a silly film, but fun. It was basically The Adventures of Space Jesus. The thing is I went into the cinema knowing that it had overt Christian themes, and I was looking out for them. And actually in the end I kind of liked seeing them there. A lot of the Jesus references were a bit ham-fisted, but it was fun, and there are plenty of explosions and fistfights. Plus it’s refreshing to see a big budget Hollywood film play around with Christian imagery and ideas.

Now apparently there are quite a few churches that are not happy at all about the Jesus imagery. Some of them have even labelled the Superman character anti-Christian, because the real Jesus would never fight back against the bad guys, punching and heat-raying them. The most Christ-like figure in the whole film, one critic says, is Kevin Costner’s self-sacrificial character, not Superman. Continue reading “on space jesus”

on lifelong things

How would you qualify a lifelong interest? Something that lasts ten years? Twenty?

In my entire life I would say the longest-running interest I’ve had is in dinosaurs. That interest ran probably from as early as I can remember till I was about 15. That’s 13 years of dinosaur mania.

On the other hand I only started getting interested in Roman history (and ancient history in general) when I was about 16, and that interest is still running. So that’s just shy of 10 years of interest in Roman history.

But I get the feeling that my passion for Roman history will last a long time, if not for the rest of my life. My interest in dinosaurs on the other hand has pretty much run dry. So despite its longer run in my life till now, dinosaur mania still lost out. Continue reading “on lifelong things”

on being a good man

Remember that scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan? An old James Ryan, having remembered all the hardships and sacrifices that were endured to bring him home, kneels in front of the grave of Captain John Miller, the man who saved his life. It seems Miller’s dying words to him, “earn this,” have stayed with him all his life.

Ryan turns to his wife and says “tell me I’m a good man.”

What if the answer had been “no”? What if Ryan had tried but failed? What if he had never tried at all? Continue reading “on being a good man”

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