“All this has happened before. All this will happen again.” Book of Pythia, Battlestar Galactica
Doesn’t this sound like familiar trope?
The Middle East’s oil resources are one of the focal points of geopolitical calculations by the two major Powers of the day. Among the reasons why this desert is so important to the strategies of men in suits in faraway halls of power is the inherent military value of the oil. Control of these resources is critical to the ultimate outcome of wars, to the winners and losers. The Power that gains control of these resources ends up getting sucked into the sometime internecine religious conflicts of the region. Intractable theological conundrums are the source of these conflicts but the resolution of or sensitivity to them is secondary to the primary strategic objective of the Power’s “national interests.” The various ruling parties or factions have divergent ideas on how to secure this oil, but the outcome all agree on: assert the national interest. Peace at all costs as long as the oil is secure. He may be a bastard but he’s our bastard.
Rinse, lather and repeat.
And on and on it goes…
I love reading history because it provides a sense of perspective.
Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life is a book that I’m going through. After Caeser’s murder and the defeat of Brutus and Cassius, the victorious Triumvirs Marc Anthony, Octavian and Lepidus, more or less, divided the Roman empire to be ruled equally by all three, theoretically speaking, with the Treaty of Brundisium. In practice, the Republic faced another civil war because this equality could not function in reality. This war was the last civil war of the Roman Republic and the Republic officially died in its aftermath. Octavian won, becoming the first Emperor of Rome (it’s a common mistake that Caeser was the first Emperor).
As per the Treaty, Octavian took control of Italy and Marc Anthony took Egypt. Egypt was a critical province because Italy relied on it to feed herself. A substantial amount of Italy’s food imports were grown on the Nile River Delta. So naturally, the empty stomachs of Roman citizens became a pawn in the political machinations between Octavian and Anthony.
The treaty, the machinations, the backstabbing, the finger-pointing, the brouhaha, all culminated in the Battle of Actium, where Octavian’s navy delivered a crushing blow to Anthony’s forces. The war was over for all intents and purposes after this battle. Anthony and Cleopatra would commit suicide shortly thereafter.
Between Italy and Egypt lies the Mediterranean. The winner of the naval war-within-the-war would be the undisputed master of the Known World. Cleopatra’s navy was the biggest one at the war’s start. It also held a crucial advantage from a military point of view in that her ships had the best water-proofing. It was crucial for Octavian to water proof his wooden boats to the same degree if his navy was to stand up to Cleopatra’s, as it ultimately did at Actium.
Bitumen, that thick gooey substance you find in the Alberta tar sands, had wonderful water-proofing uses for wooden ships. Cleopatra’s ships were waterproofed with bitumen out of the Middle East. The bitumen was so thick that tar balls would get sent to the top of the Dead Sea. This military application made this resource a strategic asset.
Herod the Great of Judea controlled this resource and so became a pawn in the Republic’s civil wars. He was a vassal king to Rome, who cemented his power after Ceaser’s death with the backing of the Roman Army. It’s not out of line in this context to think of Herod as an ancient equivalent of one of the 20th century’s tinpot dictator-sheiks, who had the good fortune to be living on top of the fossilized remains of plants and animals.
We all know how this story ended. When the Maji came to Herod inquiring about the newborn true king of the Jews, he launched the Massacre of the Innocents where all male children under the age of 2 were massacred in Bethlehem. Upon Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided among his three sons. The religious unrest of the region prompted Rome’s direct intervention when Pontius Pilate felt compelled to intervene at Christ’s trial. Despite Pilate’s declaration that Jesus was innocent, he still ordered the crucifixation to appease the mobs and keep the peace.
And on and on it goes…
I usually read into the late night, well into morning. I love the smell of perspective in the morning.