The Gothic War

Zach – Welcome back to Minimum Wage Historian. We have another exciting episode for you. Today’s topic is the Gothic War!

No, Gaspar, not those kind of Goths.

No, Gaspar, not those kind of Goths.

These are the Goths you're looking for.

These are the Goths you’re looking for.

Anna Komnene – Those infernal Goths! They’re barbarian scum. I’m glad we get to speak of a war that has us Romans defeating their infernal nation.

Zach – At least you’re not letting your personal biases affect your historical opinion.

Anna – Of course not.

Zach – Yes, today we’re talking about the Gothic War. It was an epic plan by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justinian to reform the entire Roman Empire by recapturing the West. He viewed it as shameful that the Roman Empire didn’t actually have Rome in its borders. It saw terrible destruction all across Italy that did more damage than the barbarians ever did.

Anna – That’s a harsh judgement. Well, to set the record straight we have with us Matilda of Tuscany who is our resident expert in warfare in Italy. Then we have Gaspar Correia our expert in… nothing really. And finally we have Olga of Kiev, our expert in destruction.

Olga – Dah, I am good at this destroying things.

Zach – Let’s get started then. I’ll do a quick history lesson to catch us up. The Western Roman Empire fell in 476AD by the barbarian Odoacer. He crowned himself “King of Italy” and was theoretically under Byzantium’s authority. Both sides held the illusion that Odoacer was there by Byzantium’s consent. It gave odoacer prestige and legitimacy and gave the Byzantines the appearance of not looking quite so weak. But eventually Byzantium grew tired of these barbarians and decided to do something about it.

Anna – There was an Ostrogoth named Theodoric that settled his people in the Balkans and lived under the protection of the emperor. The Emperor Zeno didn’t like a bunch of filthy barbarians living within his territory and he didn’t like those pesky barbarians over in Rome, so he sent Theodoric over to take Italy. He’d let the two barbarians fight it out. So, he gave Theodoric a bunch of important Roman titles such as Patrician and Magister Militum and Theodoric went over and fought several battles against Odoacer and eventually captured Ravenna, then capital of Italy. Odoacer, knowing he was losing, sued for peace and invited Theodoric to a banquet to sign their peace treaty. Theodoric showed up in his best barbarian suit then promptly drew his giant two handed sword and cut Odoacer in half. Shoulder to groin.

Theodoric having a bloody good time!

Theodoric having a bloody good time!

Gaspar – Not the most peaceful of beginnings but Theodoric actually turned out to be a pretty cool dude. He set up shop in Ravenna and kept the local Romans in their positions to keep the government running smoothly. He adopted the Roman way of life, built churches, palaces and theaters.

Here's a church he built covered in gorgeous mosaics. He actually led somewhat of a Golden Age in Italy and everyone kind of liked him.

Here’s a church he built covered in gorgeous mosaics. He actually led somewhat of a Golden Age in Italy and everyone kind of liked him.

They thought he was such a cool dude they bought him this pimped out tomb. In his case the term "barbarian" must be used extremely loosely.

They thought he was such a cool dude they bought him this pimped out tomb. In his case the term “barbarian” must be used extremely loosely.

Matilda – Enough back story. Fast forward to Justinian’s time. Fast forward to 535 and Justinian has sent his genius general, Belisarius, probably the best general since Caesar, to take out the Vandals in northern Africa. With a small task force he rolled in and extinguished the Vandals as a nation. Justinian then sicked his attack dog on Italy and the Gothic Kingdom there. Let me explain Belisarius’s army here. This isn’t the famed Roman Legions of old. No, this was a rag tag force of mercenaries, private armies, Huns and whoever else they could scrape together. But they needed an excuse to invade. Remember, the Goths were supposedly under Byzantine authority so when they killed the legitimate heir and placed someone else on the throne, Justinian used this as his excuse and ordered the invasion.

Okay, Hadrianus, where is this "gelato" you speak of? What's the point of invading Italy if we don't get any good food?

Okay, Hadrianus, where is this “gelato” you speak of? What’s the point of invading Italy if we don’t get any good food?

Zach – For any students of the Second World War, this next part should sound familiar. In order to invade Italy, they invaded Sicily first and took it without much fuss. Palermo was the only place with an real resistance. With that out of the way, the Byzantines invaded southern Italy. Southern Italy had a lot of Greek speakers from centuries before and were pro-Byzantine. They welcomed Belisarius and they marched in with ease. Naples, an important port town then as it is even now, resisted with a long siege which lasted until November. From there they marched north to Rome which threw their gates open to them. the Goth forces were consolidating in the north where their base of power was. The Romans were moving so fast that the Goths were simply unprepared.

Olga – Dah, the Romans sacked Naples. Good times for everybodies, unless you lived in Naples.

Anna – Well, that was the tradition at that time, if a city resisted, they get sacked. But Rome let them in so they were spared the horrors of war. But the Goths finally got organized and launched a counter offensive. They marched to Rome and laid siege to it. Belisarius was greatly outnumbered and didn’t have the forces to fight the Goths, so they help up behind the walls of Rome. Here’s how a siege worked. The city would be surrounded while the attackers tried to dig mines to “Undermine” the walls, bribe gate guards, launch assaults or launch plague ridden animals and body parts over the walls. In turn, the defenders would sally out for rapid strikes against important targets. Us Eastern Romans had a greater knack for cavalry than our Western counterparts ever did and our cavalry was great for these lightning raids against the besiegers. This siege went on for a year with several large battles. Reinforcements from Constantinople arrived. The Roman cavalry sallied out and cut off the Goths from their logistic supply train. For a besieger this is very bad news. It meant that they might run out of food before the people in the city. At this time, Belisarius cut off the aquaducts to Rome to deprive the Goths of water. They were never restored. You can still see those ruined aquaducts today.

The Goths attacking the Castile D' San Angelo, which used to be Hadrian's tomb but was turned into a fort. You can go to Rome and see the walls themselves, still intact after 1,500 years.

The Goths attacking the Castile D’ San Angelo, which used to be Hadrian’s tomb but was turned into a fort. You can go to Rome and see the walls themselves, still intact after 1,500 years.

Gaspar – Then the Romans did something I like to do in computer strategy games, he sent a force to threaten a town near Ravenna, the Goth capitol. This forced the Goths to give up and go protect Ravenna. But then the Goths attacked a Roman controlled town of Ancona and would fall to the Goths if not relieved. So, Belisarius with his c0-commander, sent their secret weapon. The Byzantines had long traded with the Far East and with their group of Ninja, brought over from Japan, they snuck into the enemy camp and killed every one of them in one bloody night.

Anna - Gaspar, Ninja's weren't even around back then.

Anna – Gaspar, Ninja’s weren’t even around back then.

Olga – They should just burn city down. Makes things much easier.

Matilda – One lesson I was smart enough not to have to learn by experience was that it was never a good idea to share command in a war time situation. The last thing an army needs is a divided leadership. Well, Justinian sent the eunuch, Narses with another army to come over and help them out. The two leaders argued. Basically, Narses was a politician that cared more about the cost of blankets than the lives of his soldiers and Belisarius was the best thing since Hannibal.  But Belisarius, realizing that a full rift between them would be disastrous for the campaign, compromised the best he could with the eunuch.

Narses wishes he was as cool as the Spider.

Narses wishes he was as cool as the Spider.

Anna – I think you’re being too harsh on Narses. He was a capable general that won a great deal of victories. In fact, after they fought of the Goths in Rome, they went on the offensive and took many cities.

Matilda – But then Narses refused to help a city under siege. A Roman force was trapped in the city and was starving. Belisarius sent a commander to help the city, but the commander refused to move unless Narses ordered him to go. The city was lost and it was a disaster for the Roman war effort. Even Justinian, in his opaque fog of arrogance realized that having two different commanders probably wasn’t a good idea and recalled Narses back to Constantinople.

Zach – Now that Belisarius was in command again, he moved against the Goths. His goal was to take Ravenna and end the war. He faced off against the Goths across the Po River when suddenly an army of Franks poured into the valley. The Goths thought they were allies coming to help and weren’t prepared at all for the Frankish assault. They were quickly broken and ran off with heavy casualties. The Byzantines put up a fight but retreated. The Frankish army was massive and poised to take all of Italy, but then they all got dysentery and slumped back to France.

Matilda – Where’s Joan D’Arc to defend her French honor?

Zach – She’s watching Ironclad with Mulan. Mulan showed her “Painted Skin: The Resurection” so Joan thought a movie exchange was in order. Tomoe Gozen is cooking karage.

Olga – Is that the delicious chickens Tomoe cooks? I must go.

(Olga runs out of room.)

Gaspar – There goes our voice of reason.  But then it was time for Belisarius to get real. He sent the Imperial fleet into the Adriatic to cut Ravenna off from supply. Then messengers came from Constantinple with very fair terms for the Goths. They’d keep everything north of the Po River and the Byzantines would keep everything south of it. The terms were so lenient that Belisarius considered it a betrayal. He marched into Ravenna and treated the city with generosity. No looting, no destruction and everyone kept their homes and property.  Then Belisarius returned home but he refused a triumph. (Even though I think he earned one.)

He came to kick butt and chew bubblegum. And he was all out of bubblegum.

He came to kick butt and chew bubblegum. And he was all out of bubblegum.

Zach – So peace descended upon Italy, but it was not to last. The Byzantines raised the taxes, the army looted the civilians at will and the government was basically run like a cruel and corrupt government from a bad B movie. Needless to say that this didn’t endure them to the locals. There was a lot of bickering, infighting and assassinations among the Goths but eventually they ended with Totilla in charge. In 542 a plague swept through the Byzantine Empire and wiped out thousands of people. This weakened the Byzantine army and left Justinian sterile and some say, mentally weaker.  Also, Belisarius was off in Persian dealing with a new Persian war and the generals in Italy were…and let’s be polite here, morons. The Goths surged southward and took several cities and besieged Florence. The Byzantines, even though they were numerically superior, still managed to lose because they sucked.

Anna – The barbarian, Totilla led his forces south in lightning fast strikes against weak Roman positions and took town after town. They bypassed Rome and went down to Naples. Totilla also did something my ancestors forgot to do, he treated the people well so that many people surrendered willingly and viewed him as a liberator. When he took Naples, he fed the citizens and let the Romans live. Well, Belisarius made a five year peace with Persia and hurried back to Italy to do what his incompetent comrades couldn’t do. Rome fell before he could save it, but he quickly captured it back.

Matilda – And just in case you thought Justinian was still cool, here’s what he did with one of history’s greatest generals. Justinian was jealous of Belisarius’s popularity, so he refused to send supplies and reinforcements. Outnumbered and unsupplied, the Goths took back Rome. It was a great deal of warfare in the city of Rome and the city never recovered from this destruction.  Justinian then sends back Narses and actually gives him everything he wants. Narses takes back Rome and at the Battle of Taginae, Narses actually managed to kill Totilla.

Zach – Victory was in sight for the Byzantines. The Goths were put in their place and nothing stood in their way.

But then the Franks and Alemani invaded and pushed the Byzantines back to southern Italy where they stayed.

This war didn't exactly have the outcome the Byzantines intended.

This war didn’t exactly have the outcome the Byzantines intended.

Matilda – What did the Byzantines achieve? Rome and its best cities were desolated.  The peninsula was depopulated, Italy fell into a dark age, the Byzantines lost much of its army, most of its money and left them vulnerable to the Persians. Now that Italy was desolated, it provided very little wealth to the Empire.  There are many lessons to be learned of what to do and what not to do. This was a long and draw out war with far more to learn about. I encourage you to learn about it because there’s too much for Minimum Wage Historians to handle.

Gaspar – I also encourage you to look up Zach’s book, “Sins of Prometheus.” It’s a pretty cool post apocalyptic adventure. Tomoe says there aren’t enough sword fights, but I like the guns. Mulan likes the Chinese woman that kicks butt. Give it a try!

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The History of Godzilla

Here to set the record straight on the big G man himself.

Here to set the record straight on the big G man himself.

Anna – I’m not entirely sure what we’re talking about today.

Zach – Didn’t you watch the movie I assigned.

Anna – I tried to. I didn’t understand it very well. Something about a giant monster. I didn’t watch all of it.

Gaspar – (sighs) Anna, if you’re going to be a real historian like me you have to be willing to stare that old monster in the face and say ‘you know, fella, give me your best, I can take it.’

Anna – The last thing I need is a lecture by this troglodyte.

Zach – Let’s get started here. Today we have me, Anna Komnene, Gaspar Correia, Buffalo Calf Woman and Scipio Africanus.

Scipio – I was surprised to say the least at the popularity of such a thing.  There have been 28 Godzilla movies from 1954 to 2004.  That’s more than James Bond.

Buffalo – I thought it was 29.

Zach – We don’t count the Mathew Broderick one.

Gaspar – Nor should we.

Buffalo – I’d like to start with the director. If we’re going to give a detailed history of such an iconic beast, we should start with its creators.  First, Ishiro Honda. he was the director of the original Godzilla 1954. In WWII he was drafted into the army and was taken prisoner. At the end of the war he was released and went back to Japan. Upon arrival he saw first hand the devastation at Hiroshima and was horrified. The scene of a death stayed with him for the rest of his life and as such his films often have a strong anti-war message. This was a man that saw the worst of war and used his talents to fight against it. Yes, he was making sometimes goofy giant monster movies, but he was doing his part to make the world a better place, something we should all try to do.

He basically created a distinctly Japanese genre of movie.

He basically created a distinctly Japanese genre of movie.

Anna – I did research Eiji Tsuburaya. He was the other c0-creator of Godzilla. While Honda engineered the idea of Godzilla, Eiji Tsuburaya brought the beast to life. He was a special effects artist at Toho studios and was also drafted into the war. Like Honda he hated the war and was a gentle man that loved children. He did not put blood in the monster fights because he didn’t think children should be watching such violence.   During the war he also made propaganda films for the Japanese Empire. One of them got him into trouble.  He made a film about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The American occupation thought he had used real footage and he was blacklisted for a few years. He went on to design Godzilla for the 1954 movie. He wanted something powerful like a gorilla but monstrous like an alligator. “Gojira” is a cross between “Gorilla” and “Whale” in Japanese. Also, the iconic Godzilla roar was created by running a gloved hand over the strings of an upright bass and the sound slowed down.  Very neat. He also used dinosaurs as inspiration, notably the iguanadon…

Gaspar – My personal favorite dinosaur!

Anna – …and the stegosaurus.  He later went on to start his own special effects company and created Ultraman, a Japanese super hero that grows big and shoots lasers.

Gaspar – and he flies. And fights monsters.

Possibly the greatest job in the universe, making giant monster movies.

Possibly the greatest job in the universe, making giant monster movies.

Zach – So they made the movie and it was a message about the horrors of atomic warfare. The destruction Godzilla causes is a vision of Hiroshima that Honda saw nearly a decade before.

Gaspar – Then came the sequel, Godzilla raids again. Next was Godzilla vs King Kong. This set Godzilla up as a superstar.

This was the golden age of Toho monster movies. This was monster suited mayhem at its finest.

This was the golden age of Toho monster movies. This was monster suited mayhem at its finest.

Scipio – This period is called the Showa era of Godzilla movies. This established many of the famous Godzilla monsters

King Ghidorah, Godzilla's arch nemesis.

King Ghidorah, Godzilla’s arch nemesis.

Mothra, a monster that's very popular among women in Japan.  One of Godzilla's sometimes allies.

Mothra, a monster that’s very popular among women in Japan. One of Godzilla’s sometimes allies.

Rodan, a flying monster that helps Godzilla against Ghidorah.

Rodan, a flying monster that helps Godzilla against Ghidorah.

And, Godzilla's other main advisary, Mechagodzilla.

And, Godzilla’s other main advisory, Mechagodzilla.

Zach – Showa series ended with my personal favorite, “Terror of Mechagodzilla.” It was the swan song of the original godzilla series. The series had turned mostly campy and comedic and had lost all of the original meaning and significance. Godzilla had turned from a personification of the atomic bomb to the white hat hero fighting alien monsters to save the Earth.

This was an epic showdown that brought Godzilla back to its golden era of spectacle and awesome destruction.

This was an epic showdown that brought Godzilla back to its golden era of spectacle and awesome destruction.

Gaspar – But then Godzilla returned in 1984 with “The Return of Godzilla” or “Godzilla 1985” in America. This was the start of the Heisei era. This had many movies with “Vs” in the title. Godzilla vs Biollante, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Godzilla vs Ghidorah. Godzilla vs Space Godzilla and Godzilla vs Destroyah to name a few.

Zach – Honestly, most of the heisei era movies kinda sucked. G vs Ghidorah had some appalling plot twists and the lamest android ever. Also, there was like five seconds of action in it. Biollante was filmed in my beloved Fukui and Space Godzilla was an maelstrom of kaiju awesomeness.

Godzilla was kind of chunky in this series. Many of the monsters floated around on wires and not enough action. But at least it started off as an attempt to be serious.

Godzilla was kind of chunky in this series. Many of the monsters floated around on wires and not enough action. But at least it started off as an attempt to be serious.

Scipio – But then Godzilla died in Godzilla vs Destroyah. But do not worry, Godzilla came back in Godzilla 2000. This started the Millennial series. Godzilla 2000 was a great reboot and set the tone for the entire series. Godzilla’s breath attack was upgraded from a tickle spray to a megabeam that blows everything up in a rather impressive display.

He sports a sleeker, spikier look and isn't good nor bad, but a force of nature. (My favorite Godzilla suit.)

He sports a sleeker, spikier look and isn’t good nor bad, but a force of nature. (My favorite Godzilla suit.)

Buffalo – Many of these Millennial movies have a message. For example in Godzilla vs Megagirus, Godzilla is attracted to nuclear power so Japan is forced to go to alternative forms of energy. Sounds nice to me.  Wait, in many Indian religions there is talk of evil serpents with horns that live in the water. I wonder if one if one of these were the first kaiju. I want to see a Cheyenne kaiju kicking an American kaiju’s but! In Giant Monsters all out Attack Godzilla is there to punish Japan for its crimes in World War II. Most movies in this series are unrelated and approach Godzilla like it was a direct sequel to Godzilla 1954.  (Yes, some mention other movies, but in a loose manner. And Godzilla S.O.S. is a sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla.) There’s a lot of action, a lot of fun and a lot of cheesy special effects.

Mechagodzilla was the goodguy this time.

Mechagodzilla was the good guy this time. But a very cool looking good guy that goes bezerk sometimes and destroys the city.

Godzilla's the villain in Giant Monsters all out Attack. Look at those eyes and fangs! You know he's evil.

Godzilla’s the villain in Giant Monsters all out Attack. Look at those eyes and fangs! You know he’s evil.

Anna – Okay, hold on…I just read this. The Millennial series ended with Final Wars which was an homage to the Showa era movies with the many monsters battling aliens for the fate of the world. It was the 50th anniversary of the first Godzilla movie. (1954 – 2004.) In Byzantine terms, that’s a very short time. See, I still got it!

This is Olga's favorite monster, the space monster Gigan. Olga likes him because "he has saw on belly."

This is Olga’s favorite monster, the space monster Gigan. Olga likes him because “he has saw on belly.”

Zach – So, this catches us up to present with the release of Legendary’s Godzilla in 2014, the 60th anniversary in which it takes Godzilla back to its “punishment for mankind’s folly by nature” theme. Godzilla is no longer a campy cheese fest, but a terrifying nightmare of destruction.

The news of the new Godzilla movie has me feeling like Godzilla from "Invasion of Astro Monster" one of my childhood favorites.

The news of the new Godzilla movie has me feeling like Godzilla from “Invasion of Astro Monster” one of my childhood favorites.

Boudica here just to remind you to not just go watch Terror of Mechagodzilla, but also to check out Zach's post apocalyptic adventure "Sins of Prometheus." Find it on Amazon!

Boudica here just to remind you to not just go watch Terror of Mechagodzilla, but also to check out Zach’s post apocalyptic adventure “Sins of Prometheus.” Find it on Amazon!

Gaspar – Oh, and lastly, please leave a comment with your favorite kaiju or Godzilla suit.