Tuesday 28 June 2016


Tipton folk on the way to the polls

Shock breaking news from Tipton!  

The principality of Tipton floating in a sea of despond and assorted detritus has made history today. For today the good burghers of Tipton voted to leave the West Midland Economic Community in a much vaunted and sort after referendum. 

This was always going to be a contentious issue dividing and polarising the Tiptonites causing mass hysteria and looting on the streets (business as usual then). Indeed, it has been prophesised on the wind, that when Tipton cedes from the 'Union', dire calamity and tribulation will fall upon bankers and assorted plutocrats forcing the sale of countless country homes. 

Professor Scaremugumbo from the Tipton Institute of Economic Research, pontificated thusly: "O woe is us. I predict that dragons will rise from the sewers and devour the first born of every Tiptonite and there will be a wailing and gnashing of dentures. Also the Tipton groat will tumble faster than a one legged drunk builder negotiating a thin rickety plank betwixt two burning sky scrapers". 

Amid concerns 

The mayor of Tipton, the Right Honourable Enoch Vowel Jnr has resigned after an impromptu press conference organised earlier today. "I can no longer continue as leader and will leave this great municipality in less rapacious hands (possibly). Although I will continue to draw a large largesse from the tax payer and no doubt find several lucrative appointments on the boards of large multinational companies".

Horace Flaxen Hair (no relation), the tousled maverick beloved by the befuddled and the smart is strongly touted to be the next leader of the Tipton Tariff Free state.(tarrif controls to be introduced at a later date). Horace, when poked with a sharp stick, had this to say: "We live in momentous times. This moment will live in history and be known as the moment of destiny. Unfettered from the prurient festering corpse of a moribund conglomeration of states, Tipton will rise like a ragged arsed Phoenix and become one with the myriad of stars which bestrew the firmament like beacons of hope". 

The bureaucrats in Birmingham are running scared today amid fears that the 'Tipton Precedent' will fuel clamours for other member states to demand a plebiscite. The Mayor of Birmingham has categorically stated: "Tipton today, Netherton North tomorrow". 

The issues of contention between the 'in' and 'out' camps were very clear from a frenetic start. The TIPEX IT brigade emphasised the loss of Tipton sovereignty to faceless unelected officials based in far away exotic Birmingham and abhorred the hordes of migrating East Midland gypos flooding the green verdant pastures of Tipton. In the wake of the vote there has been much speculation concerning the fate of the gypo encampment located on the Tipton-Smethwick border. Perhaps with the collapse of unity more gypos will finally fuck off to the benighted shit hole from whence they first hailed. And finally, and perhaps the most vexing of predicaments: the vast amount of Tipton groats being frittered away propping up wastrel economies in the south and east of the Midlands. 

As expected the 'Innies' have reacted with hysteria and incandescent whimsy. Mr Random Man in the Pub, could barely choke down his eel pie when asked about the result: "Tis a bleeding liberty innit. What is the point of a referendum if it doesn't give the result you want? The government should intervene and over turn the will of the people. After all isn't that what democracy is all about, innit". 

We certainly live in wondrous times.........Arse.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

The Mugumbo Files Part II

This is the second in a series of correspondence with various parties hailing from a 'country' in West Africa. You have it on my unsecured authority that this represents a true exchange between myself and said gentlemen over a course of several months. For brevity sake, and to protect the innocent, editorial changes have been made. As always, the death threats, remain mine.    
To remain in the loop and not to lose track of your own sanity, it is a really good idea if you read this shit first.

Dear Sirs
Allow me to introduce my personage. My name is Bar Lighthouse Umbongo. I am a Barrister, Advocate and Notoriety acting with the cognoscence of the Esteemed General Iphone Mugumbo. My role is to facilitate this transaction and to handle all manner of legal modalities. It is vital that you adhere to all my injunctions and instructions and to discuss our transactions with no one until our business is secured. If you agree to my direction in this matter I will start processes. Very soon you shall be a very rich man and your neighbours will smile at you good fortune.
 I await your positive response 
Bar Lighthouse Umbongo


Flaxen Saxon
 Dear Bar
You don't mind me calling you Bar, do you?  I like to call people by their first name. I have to say it is very perceptive of you to greet me with 'Sirs' and not 'Sir'. You have obviously divined that I suffer from a multiple personality complex. For now I am Flaxen Saxon, but don't be surprised if later in this missive I transform into a rather cute but vicious ferret with a penchant for eating polystyrene, called Shagger. I have included photos of both entities so there is no confusion. Please congratulate your partner, Colonel Iphone Mugumbo on being promoted to General. This is quite an achievement since he has skipped the usual intervening degrees of promotion. The General must be very talented, well connected, corrupt, or all three. It is refreshing and reassuring that you are notorious. I am sure your unsavoury and ill famed disposition will facilitate all modalities with opprobrium. By the way, cognoscence is not a real word.

Sorry, I'm starting to digress, however, I am keen to move our transaction to a satisfactory conclusion, mindful of all processes involved, moving forward. Do you think I could have a picture of your good self looking rather dodgy in a rattan hat? I hope this is not too much of an imposition, but I would like to add you to my collection of feral individuals.  

Yours with a packet of ferret treats,

PS What is your coffee like?

Dear Flaxen Saxon,
The contents of your mail is well noted. I include a picture in my office and the funds so you know I speak with you as honest man to honest man. You can see I'm a serious man. We must trust you at every turn as we remain in your hands and friends. The Colonel has taken worse and is likely to leave this world and be delivered to the hand of God within a month. It is critical that we can conclude our business before my friend expires.

The attache case of monies has been sealed and can now only be opened with a number sequence-207256. Keep this number in you heart so you can unleash untold riches. You and your family will live like kings and not suffer for any physical discomfort. I need to speak to you seriously as man to man. The case will be sent to you by courier. In two days you will be recipient of untold riches. But first the courier must be paid. This is more expensive because of the cast iron insurance that must follow package. You are directed to progress to your nearest Western Union Office and send $US1,500 to Mr Internet Imbargobongo, 23 Cecil Rhodes Boulevarde, Shitown, Cesspitagogoland. Security question- 'who is great'. Answer- 'only God'. We can't deduct the money as it is secure and can only be released by your signature. So it is in your hands and God almighty. In two days you will be sitting pretty, but if delay you will remain poor.

Bar Lighthouse Umbongo 
Dear Bar,
I am most discobobulated that the erstwhile General has suffered a demotion, please send him my heartfelt sympathies and regardies. Your army doles out promotions and demotions faster than a tart's knickers move up and down in a brothel on a Saturday night; please excuse the vulgar simile. By the way, as you can see from my photo, I am already sitting pretty. How quixotic of you not to notice- please pay attention in future. Just a thought, but since the Colonel/General is about to peg it, wouldn't it be advantageous to us both if we simply split the monies between ourselves and leavicate the poor widow to fend for herself without the monies? Let me know what you think. If you agree I will send the extortion fee of $US1,500 with alacrity. Shagger says: "Neep. neep".
Yours with a plan
Flaxen Saxon

PS: The hat, from what I can see, is a Homburg, without any hint of a rattan festoon. You have not fully complied with my requesties, although you do look rather dodgy.

Dear Flaxen Saxon,
Your contents are well noted. Send courier fee to secure monies. I will instruct on disbursement once you have the package secured. Do not delay, fortune favors the man who does not hesitate.

Bar Lighthouse Umbongo

                                                       TO BE CONTINUED...........





Tuesday 21 June 2016

The Genius of Carl Sagan

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
Professor Carl Sagan
Watch and weep


Saturday 18 June 2016


Note the noble brow
The Ancient Greeks produced a number of prodigious intellects over a span of four hundred years. These Great Men were no longer content to accept explanations based on none causal events, such as 'the gods did it'. They searched for naturalistic causation to explain how the 'world worked'. And this naturally led them to question the existence of the very gods themselves which in turn garnered criticism from their less enlightened countrymen. Impiety is the natural companion of the enquiring mind.

The last of these Great Men was a chap called Archimedes.
Archimedes was born in Syracuse, Sicily in 287 BC. He was born into a family of some note and may have been related to the king of Syracuse, Hiero II. The Syracuse of the time was a great centre for learning, art and commerce and Archimedes as a young man drank deep from the Syricusan well of knowledge (stop waxing lyrical, Flaxen, you dozy twat). To complete his education Archimedes travelled to Alexandria in North Africa. The recently founded city of Alexandria was the undisputed hub of scholarship in the West and housed the most extensive library ever known in the ancient world. After completing his studies, Archimedes returned to his home city where he would remain for the rest of his life.

Archimedes was concerned with many areas intellectual endeavour but he is mainly remembered for his engineering feats. For instance, the king was interested in finding a method for emptying bilge water from his fleet of ships and consulted Archimedes for a solution. Archimedes came up with a long spiral tube. When rotated, water would enter the lower end and would be carried up through the tube to be emptied at the top. On another occasion, the king was concerned whether his newly commissioned gold coinage had been adulterated with silver. Archimedes was tasked with the problem of determining whether the new gold crowns were of pure gold. It is said that Archimedes was initially perplexed but found a solution whilst in the bath. His slave had inadvertently over filled his bath and on entering Archimedes displaced the water causing it to overflow. He realised that he had discovered a method of measuring the volume of an object by simple displacement. If he could work out the volume of a gold crown together with its weight he would be able to deduce the coin's density. A pure gold crown would have different density to one which had been debased. The story goes that Archimedes was so excited by his discovery that he ran through the streets of Syracuse shouting, "Eureka" (I have found it).

During the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) between the Romans and Carthaginians, the Syracusans were initially allied to Rome. However, in 214 BC the king unwisely changed sides. The Roman response was to send an army to besiege the city. However, if the Romans expected an easy conquest they hadn't counted on the engineering genius of Archimedes. Archimedes had constructed a number of war engines designed to cunningly thwart Roman plans. A huge beam projected from the wall overlooking the sea. A grappling hook was lowered to catch the prows of Roman ships lifting them to a height before releasing them to crash and sink into the sea. It is also mentioned that Archimedes set up a series of polished shields to concentrate the sun's rays on Roman ships thus setting them on fire. But the Romans, although checked for a while, were remorseless and eventually the city fell. Marcellus, the renowned Roman general, was so impressed by Archimedes that he ordered his soldiers to take him alive. Not an easy prospect considering the Roman treatment of conquered cities. When a Roman soldier approached Archimedes, he was apparently too distracted with a problem to recognise the soldier's presence. The ignored soldier struck him dead; Archimedes was 75 years old.   
Claw of doom 
The death of Archimedes marked the death of continued innovative Greek thought. From now on the Greeks would find themselves pitted against the mighty Romans and within a scant 100 years free Greek nations would no longer exist. The effect on the Greek collective psyche must have been profound. Previously the Greeks had been proud and superior viewing all other races as innately inferior. With the coming of the Romans the Greeks lost their sure footing in the world. How could it be that this barbarous people could subdue a race of genius? The Greek intellect never recovered. Perhaps the elder gods, in their last gasp, decided to punish the Greeks for hubris. As for the Romans: In the main, the Romans were not interested in pure abstract thought. If science and geometry could be harnessed to make better bridges, fortifications and roads, all well and good. In philosophy the Romans added nothing new. Their speculations were always derivative and parasitic on long dead Greek philosophy. And so Western 'thought' and science went into a deep, deep slumber and would not awake for a thousand years.  

The death of rational thought

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Statins Anonymous

Bacon tastes good

I'm writing about a subject very close to my heart. For decades now we have been hectored by our doctors and indirectly by the pharmaceutical companies about the harmful effect of high blood cholesterol. We have been told the dire consequences of not reducing our cholesterol by diet and by cholesterol lowering drugs called statins.  

Two years ago my General Practitioner conducted a routine blood panel as part of my health 'warrant of fitness'. My biochemical parameters came out fine, except one. My cholesterol was rather high and my doc said I was at significant risk of heart disease or a vascular event such as a stroke. On my doctor's recommendation I immediately started a course of statins. Within a relatively short time I started to feel crap. My muscles started to ache, I became irritable and became very testy with colleagues and loved ones. In addition, I became fatigued and lost zest for life. Within three weeks I stopped taking the drug and quickly felt much better. Since my brush with statins I haven't renewed my medication but have cut back on the cholesterol bearing foods such as cheese, red meats etc. Nothing too severe though and I still enjoy my life to the full. Therefore, I read with interest about an extensive study published in the prestigious British Medical Journal. Essentially, the study involved 70,000 subjects and found no link between 'bad' cholesterol and cardiac disease in the over 60s. They also found that 92% of people with high cholesterol lived longer!
The studies conclusion:
 "Lowering cholesterol with medications is a total waste of time"
Professor Sherif Sultan, University of Ireland 

Of course we are always prone to believe in things we would like to be true. This is a failing of human nature and this why we should base our decisions on sound data sets regardless of whether the conclusion is to our liking our not. I've reviewed the primary source and I'm fairly convinced that the study was well designed and sound. 

I'm sure this study will attract a gaggle of 'nay sayers' and this will be certainly led by the mighty pharmaceutical industry. Statins are big business after all and the staple of the pharmaceutical stable. In the UK alone cholesterol busting statins garner a majestic £100 million a year. Be prepared for some dubious posturing by 'Big Pharm' and even more dubious statistics. Pharmaceutical companies are not going to give up without a fight and have no vested interest in the truth but are ultimately concerned with protecting their lucrative profit margins.

I am sure this debate wont go away soon and I will keep my diligent readers up-dated as the story unfolds.



Monday 13 June 2016

Japanese Sniper Academy Discovered in Dudley

Breaking news from the picture perfect alpine resort of Dudley on Canal. An impeccable source close to the Kardashians has revealed to your esteemed correspondent, in a dream, irrefutable evidence concerning the existence of a bespoke Japanese sniper school in the very heart and pancreas of the Metropolitan District of the West Midlands.
Founded in the summer of 1944 the enemy enclave was set up to foster a nest of sniper vipers in the midst of the Empire for the propagation of mayhem and consternation. The wily Nips fooled the Dudley populace by calling their clandestine premises: 'Emperor Hirohito's authentic English Fish 'N' Chip and Sushi Bar'. How was it possible that an enemy bastion could remain undetected for 72 years? Not everyone was fooled. Mrs Haddock takes up the story as if was last week: "Last week I had occasion to enter Emperor Hirohito's authentic English Fish 'N' Chip and Sushi Bar. I asked for cod and chips drenched with mushy peas. Imagine my chagrin when I received a portion of flied lice with spling lolls. When I questioned the order, rhotacism notwithstanding, I was told in no uncertain terms: 'me no undy standy you white foreign devil, I shoot you long time'. I immediately contacted the local Dudley police station and explained my predicament". Police Constable Bloater, of the yard, takes up the story: "I was proceeding in an easterly direction down Dudley High Street when I had occasion to enter said establishment. On entry I noticed a rather diminutive gentlemen peering through thick pebble glasses as he reclined dressed in the full regalia and dress uniform of a private soldier in the Imperial Japanese army, circa 1944. I shouted, ere what’s all this then! At my exclamation he turned tail and fled through an intricate series of tunnels which ran below and throughout the Metropolitan District of Dudley. Before he sloped orf down the slope I noticed the slope had his sniper's rifle at the slope. I immediately called in the Dudley Special Flamethrower Squad. The boys, after a short hiatus due to the donning of protective asbestos gear, liberally sprayed the subterranean labyrinth with scorching jellified petrol. The whole scene was reminiscent of the battle of Iwo Jima without General Kuribayashi in attendance. The resulting screams could be heard in the neighbouring borough of Tipton. As tradition demands the boys roasted marshmallows over an open guttering flame. The mallows tasted great although some of the lads did complain about a cloying, sickly taint which pervaded all".

Emperor Hirohito, god and untried war criminal. Tojo was hanged.



Sunday 12 June 2016

O, The Dilemma

I think some of the plants on the left are highly poisonous 

This doesn't have the impact as the piccy in my previous post. The plant kingdom lacks a collective and singular nervous system. Dandelions do not feel pain, although they do bleed a milky sap if you cut them. Without nerves there is no consciousness, no feelings of love, hate or pleasure. Therefore, no moral dilemma is involved when we consume a green salad with our medium rare steak. Not everyone would agree though. The future king of England talks to plants, so did George the Third. Of course, George III was as mad as a bucket of frogs in vinegar. I blame Ron Hubbard. Not only did he invent a religion called: 'Ninth day adventurism of the thirteenth apostle bemused by space aliens dressed as cowboys', he also conducted valuable research into the notion of 'plant pain' and concluded that plants did indeed feel pain and disappointment when left out of the herbaceous border. Arse.

Dat gotta hurt

Saturday 11 June 2016

Gladius Hispaniensis

Lee-Enfield,  number 4, mark 1- one beautiful rifle
I confess, weapons fascinate me and I'm not just talking about the modern variety. For many years I've rifled fires and pistols on a range. I own a selection of firearms, all legally obtained, all licensed and all suitably stored in a locked metal cabinet (what about the luger under your bed, Flaxen?). I'm well trained/engrained in firearm use and safety. In fact, I'm sure my house is the safest home in the neighbourhood. Edged weapons hold me in their thrall. I have held medieval swords and have endured their atavistic power and beauty which transcends description. No wonder our ancestors thought that certain swords had a 'life force' and Great Swords were passed from father to son in flamboyant ritual. All I got was a rusty bayonet from Flanders's field bequeathed by my grandfather- a most treasured relic which I keep under my pillow. Pssst, my wife doesn't know as she never ventures to my side of the bed. Ain't dat the sad truth.

The Gladius Hispaniensis: the sword that forged an Empire: There is some disagreement amongst scholars concerning when the sword was adopted by the Roman Legions. As its name suggests it has a Spanish origin and was probably incorporated during the First Punic War (264-241BC) when the Romans encountered Spanish mercenary troops. Up to that time the standard sword used by the Romans was the Greek hoplite sword. Interestingly, the Greeks considered the sword a secondary weapon as they were essentially spearmen. For a Greek to use a sword in combat was a sign of desperation and meant that the cohesive spear battle-line had been broken and defeat was almost a certainty.  

Hoplite sword
The ancient Romans originally fought in a spear phalanx but eventually modified their tactics to suit the fighting in the broken hill country against the Samnites (343-341 BC, 326-304 BC and 298-290 BC ). The Romans were always quick to assimilate tactics and weapons from an enemy if they thought they were superior to their own. The Samnite loose formation offered a degree of tactical flexibility not inherent in the rigid, classical Greek phalanx and the new formation fostered swords men not a rigid formation of spears.  

The Greek sword was essentially a slashing sword with a serviceable stabbing point. The Gladius Hispaniensis was more suited for stabbing but could also deal a devastating slashing blow. The long tapered point enabled the sword to punch through metal and leather armour to deliver lethal wounds to the abdomen or chest. Swords mainly designed for cutting are not as efficient at breaking through tough armour as the force of the sword is dissipated over a greater surface area than can be achieved with a small stabbing point. Tis a matter of physics, after all. An efficient stabbing weapon gave the Romans an advantage when fighting civilised opponents such as the Carthaginians and Greeks as these peoples wore cuirass and breastplates of iron. It is probably no coincidence that when the Romans encountered barbarous Gauls and Teutons the blade of the sword was modified. The point lost the long taper necessary for piercing armour and adopted a clipped triangular point. Although less efficient at puncturing iron it was very effective against un-armoured barbars. A possible disadvantage of the original Gladius Hispaniensis lay with the reason it was such an efficient stabbing weapon. The long taper was a source of weakness and the sword may have been prone to fracture.  

Gladius Hispaniensis: wasp waisted and very pointy. A thing of feral beauty
The perfect sword for stabbing and the perfect sword for slashing are two completely different weapons. The ideal 'stabber' should have a stiff, thick triangular cross-sectioned blade. This type of sword is useless for cutting. In contrast, the ideal cutting sword should have a flat section with a single cutting edge. The thickness will vary from the back of the blade to the front emulating a wedge. The classical Greek kopis and the tulwar are good examples of this type of weapon. But as you can see from the illustration below, the kopis although a powerfull slashing weapon, could still take out an eye on a random stab. Most combat swords are a compromise between the two extremes.
Sex has a shape and it is the kopis- yes I'm not a well man: go tell it to my shrink
The effectiveness of the gladius is reflected in the ruthless efficiency which the Roman war machine carved out an empire from the Firth of Forth in the north to Saharan desert in the south; and from Spain in the west to the Middle East, err, in the east.  

I remember working with a vegan chap many years ago. He was a decent fellow but was filled with notions about saving the world and banning nasty weapons. Great sentiments, I'm sure, but most of us have to live in this imperfect world. Anyway, his young son was denied the pleasure of 'masculine toys' and only allowed to play with the neutral gender variety. I distinctly recall the day my colleague arrived at work and related the horror of finding out that his eight year old son had fashioned a makeshift play sword from two pieces of wood and a bit of twine. Much later I learned that his son had taken the king's schilling and signed up as a British paratrooper. It seems my co-worker had supplied the genes but not the environment, go figure?



Sunday 5 June 2016

Flaxen Saxon's Top Tips

Many a night whilst ensconced in the snug bar of the Whelping Ferret hostelry, Tipton, quietly reflecting upon the vicissitudes of existence over a pint of 'Gerbil Wobbler', I've been approached by sundry inebriates. Some just want to establish fellowship with another human being before shuffling off to a urine soaked mattress, alone, in a dank bedsit. Others want to impart beer soaked wisdom to a complete stranger. And then, there are those, so pissed, that they have absolutely no idea where they are and beseech with barely coherent entreaties. They bewail and bemoan and kick at the wastrel which we know as fickle fortune. Usually, unless I've lost the power of speech due to extreme intoxication, I tell them to piss off and leave me to my contemplate the vestigial absurdity of my accessory and redundant nipple.   

Sometimes a glimmer of wisdom impinges on my alcohol drenched neuronal synapses and on those rare occasions I am driven to share and impart the sagacity of a 1,000 drunken nights. Read on and weep, or experience despair according to your own peculiar and sad expectation. 

Here follows Flaxen Saxon's top tips as related by random drunks.
Today's 'Top Tips' were submitted by Mr Burny O'Arsonist of Upper Tipton. 

When returning from the pub after a heavy drinking session and craving for a fry up, why not remove the batteries from the smoke alarms so that when you inevitably fall asleep on the couch you wont be inconveniently woken up when the frying pan catches alight. 

Sick and tired of lending your lawn mower to your next door neighbour and never getting it back? Why not soak your neighbour's porch in petrol and set their house alight. Probably a good idea to break into their garage beforehand and get your lawnmower back. Also a good idea to check that you live in a detached house otherwise you may end up by burning down your own home- dire consequences might ensue.  

Fed up of being accosted by 'Chuggers' in your High Street. Why not give the wanker false details and when they are not looking douse their clipboard with lighter fuel thus setting them alight. That'll teach the bastards for stopping you and wasting your valuable time. 

Hate being stopped by saffron clothed Buddhist Monks whilst negotiating the Queen's Highways and Byways. Simply ask the orange bedecked twat to adopt the lotus position and while they are chanting "Ohm" pour petrol over them and set them alight. The serene bastards wont even realise they are being burnt to death. Explain to bewildered onlookers that the crispy monk is protesting about the high price of Yak milk in his homeland of Tiponistan. Hilarity will ensue.    

Next week's 'Top Tips' will feature the distilled wisdom of Mr Kevin Mugumbo (who else). In particular, Kevin will explain the therapeutic value of knitting nipple cosies. Tis particularly beneficial for folk blessed with an extra nipple. Kevin will emphasise the importance of inserting a chiffon lining to prevent painful and exciting chafing.
This is not me, by the way



Saturday 4 June 2016

Herod The Great

Herod of Tipton
Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi, (Matt. 2:16).
Most folk know King Herod (74BC - 4BC) through a few passages in the bible, and that is all. Glorious ignorance and brevity- great men deserve better. And according to that source, he cruelly put to death all the Bethlehem infants under 2 years to forestall a future rival king. The only known mention of the atrocity is a few scant verses in Mathew's gospel (2:16-18). Luke, Mark and John did not deem the event worthy of note to formulate comment. Luckily we have an independent source for Herod's life and deeds: Josephus, a Jewish writer under the protection of the Romans, wrote copiously about this intriguing Jewish King in the latter half of the first century AD. 

Actually, Herod was an Idumaean and therefore an Arab by birth. He was 'Jewish' due to the conquest of Idumaea during a Jewish expansionary phase under the Hasmonean dynasty (140BC - 63BC). King of Judea he may have been but many of his subjects considered him a foreign usurper placed upon the throne by hated Roman power. This sentiment was particularly strong amongst the priestly elite. And it was widely suspected that Herod's commitment to strict Judaism was lack lustre at best. 

Josephus was no fan of Herod and described in lurid detail Herod's cruelty (Antiquities of the Jews). King Herod was certainly a cruel man if challenged and dealt with rebellion, or even dissension, with ruthless efficiency. During his reign he had three sons and a wife put to death as well as other close relatives. Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, had this to say about Herod: "I would rather be his pig than his son." The saying in Greek is more elegant than the English version due to the similar sounding words for 'pig' and 'son'.

Nowhere in Josephus' writing is any mention of the 'slaughter of the innocents'. If this had taken place Josephus would have mentioned it. The biblical story is fiction. It was placed there to draw parallels between the Patriarch of the Old Testament, Moses and the life of Jesus. Jewish literature is resplendent with such examples. 

At the time of Herod's reign, Judea was a client kingdom of Rome. Herod owed his position and continued reign as a consequence of Roman power. The Romans were a most practical of people and although they had an extensive Empire they did not always annex foreign territory, although within their military capability to do so. This policy was notable on the fringes of the Empire. Sometimes it was expedient for the Romans to rule through client kings. Although nominally free, the rulers had certain obligations and were effectively Roman vassals. They were more or less free to pursue an independent domestic policy unless catastrophic internal disorder intervened. The wise ruler maintained internal order and appeased the Romans. Herod was painfully aware of the brutal reality for his family and his people if he failed. Foreign policy was determined by the Romans. In addition, the client king had to supply the Romans with tribute, often a mixture of goods and hard currency. In return, the client had a degree of political freedom and enjoyed Roman military protection. However, if the Emperor beckoned the king would have to supply troops for Roman campaigns. For the Romans, client kingdoms represented imperialism on the cheap. The Romans received tribute but did not have the burden and cost of supplying garrison troops or maintaining order. Smart buggers them Romans. To be a successful Roman client, Herod had to maintain internal order. This was not easy in the Judea of the period. The land was awash with religious zealots and warring factions. There was an expectation that the Jewish god was about to intervene and to cleanse the land of the unjust and rule the known world through the Jewish people. Charismatic leaders and preachers sprang up in the land like nettles and whipped the people into a frenzy of ecstatic welts. Herod had a fine balancing act to perform if he wanted to maintain peace and prevent Roman intervention. Often his cruelty was not arbitrary, but the act of sound policy. But not always, sometimes Herod acted in pure irrational paranoia and spite. This is the Herod of biblical description.  

Nasty, paranoid and vicious, Herod was not a man you would want to cross, even when he was having a good day (and sober). Nonetheless, a smart and politically canny man for all his foibles and faults. On balance, Herod, was an able ruler of Judea; he had to be. The Romans certainly thought so and Herod remained in power for 37 years until his death in 4BC. And I haven't touched upon the great building projects he initiated which enriched his nation and provided much needed employment for his people. 

Does Herod deserve to be considered as belonging to the pantheon of 'Great Men'? I think so, although my viewpoint is controversial. Herod's early life was hard- go read about it. Astute Romans recognised his talents when he was a young man. He negotiated the turbulent politics of the Roman civil wars with raw/rare talent and came out on top. He out-smarted the indomitable ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra and let's face it, Cleopatra was no political or intellectual slouch herself. Into this mix we have to add the strangest people in antiquity; the Jews. Strange in their fanatical observance to their deity; and what an odd and demanding deity Yahweh was/is. The Jews deserve to be called a people drenched in their love and devotion to a god which rarely returns the complement. Herod ruled a turbulent folk in turbulent times; maintained internal order and kept his Roman masters satisfied for his reign of 37 years. No mean feat. This is why, in my book, he deserves the title, 'The Great'. Great men are not born, they are forged in the white heat of circumstance. Tranquil times make great men, not at all. And this is why I'm happy with the title: 'Herod the Great'.


Massacre of the innocents: Dat one ugly baby