The only non-Jew to be granted the title “Messiah” (Anointed by the Lord) was Cyrus the Great.  It was Cyrus who defeated the neo-Babylonian empire and entered Babylon on this day in the year 540BC.

He freed the Jews from their slavery “by the rivers of Babylon” and permitted them to return to Zion.

Amongst his many titles Cyrus was called “King of the four corners of the world”.

Looking at a map of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus I can now reveal where the four corners of the earth lie.

North West corner is the Dardanelles in Asian Turkey, guarding the entrance to the Bosphorus.  This was the site upon which the Allied soldiers died in their thousands during the Great War.

South West corner is on the coast of Judea just before the Sinai desert, around where modern day Gaza city lies.

North East corner is just about where Kantubek lies on the Aral Sea.  It is an abandoned site where the USSR used to test biological weapons.  It has pride of place as the largest Anthrax dumping ground in history.

South East corner is the Pakistani port of Gwadar in Baluchistan province.  The town name means “gateway of the wind”.

What made Cyrus great was not his conquests, but his retention of his conquests.  He set up an administrative system that endured long beyond his passing.  Alexander the Great defeated the Achaemenid Empire, but in deference to excellence he strove to maintain the established system of government.  To the horror of many of his Macedonian generals Alexander “went native” and became a Persian.  He married a Persian wife, Roxanne (Roxana).

Before Cyrus the lands were ruled by dynastic kings and their noble families, supported by the concept of divine right.  Cyrus gave the job of provincial governorship to non-royals.  It was a meritocracy.  What he effectively established was the first “Civil Service”.

When you look at today’s map of the world of Cyrus one must marvel at his skill in holding together such a diverse empire.  The land today contains the countries of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Oman and the UAE.  If any modern leader could unite this area into a peaceful economic bloc they also would deserve the title “Great”

Part of his greatness was tolerance.  He was protective of the rights, customs, traditions and religions of his subject peoples.  The repatriation of the Jews was a strong example of this in practice.  Tolerance, acceptance, pluralism, qualities that seem thin on the ground in today’s Middle East.




Growing up in Ireland makes us part of a world that has traditionally been dominated by England.  Much of our understanding of history is influenced by the English weltanschauung.  

A clear incidence of this influence is the celebration of the importance of Battle of Waterloo in the defeat of Napoleon and the studious neglect of the Battle of Leipzig.  Waterloo was fought by the Seventh coalition, led by an Englishman, the Duke of Wellington.  Leipzig was the victory of the Sixth coalition, led by the Russians under Alexander.

In truth the battle of Leipzig was a far more important engagement.  The coalition fought Napoleon at the height of his power and he was roundly defeated for the first time on the battlefield.  Bonaparte lost the battle, but also lost his reputation for invincibility.  He left the legend of his military genius on the field of Leipzig.

The battle was the greatest fought on European soil until the Great War.  Casualties numbered in excess of 100,000 (higher than Borodino, but spread over 4 days) .  By comparison Waterloo, with 60,000 casualties was a sideshow, a last gasp by an already defeated and spent force.

Ranged against Napoleon where the forces of Sweden, Russia, Austria, Prussia, Saxony and Wurttemberg.  In particular it was seen as a great victory for the Germans in the Alliance.  The painting above is entitled “Declaration of Allied Victory after the Battle of Leipzig, 19th October, 1813”, painted by Johann Peter Krafft in 1839.  This painting is a classic piece of propaganda.  It was repainted at least 6 times, re-arranging the prominence of the allied leaders to suit particular commissions.

If only the British played some small part in the sixth coalition then the painting could have been repainted a seventh time.  We could have seen the British Commander take pride of place at the center of European events.  Then we would know all about the Battle of Leipzig.  Instead when we hear about European wars we hear of Blenheim and Waterloo.

The great commander of the day, the General who marched in only one direction, Forwards, was Blucher.  He triumphed at both Leipzig and Waterloo!  He even has a pair of shoes named after him, and his design became the template for all modern mens shoes.

Song of the Grenadiers:

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.

Those heroes of antiquity ne’er saw a cannon ball,
Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal.
But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

Whene’er we are commanded to storm the palisades,
Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades.
We throw them from the glacis, about the enemies’ ears.
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

And when the siege is over, we to the town repair.
The townsmen cry, “Hurrah, boys, here comes a Grenadier!
Here come the Grenadiers, my boys, who know no doubts or fears!
Then sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health of those
Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the loupèd clothes.
May they and their commanders live happy all their years.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

What’s the point?


There are suicide bombs in downtown Kabul. Shootings and stabbings in Jerusalem.  Twin bombings and 97 dead at a peace rally in Ankara.  Suicide bombings in Chad and Cameroon.

So much for the Arab spring.  The green shoots of hope have turned into the flames of torment and destruction.  Innocents on all sides die as the men of violence drive the dialogue.  But what is the dialogue?

What are the aims, the goals, the dreams?  Are we just seeing a random outpouring of violence by dissatisfied young Muslim men seeking adventure or is there a guiding hand behind all of this?

From where I am sitting the whole thing just seems pointless.

When The Assault Was Intended To The City; by John Milton

Captain or Colonel, or Knight in Arms,
Whose chance on these defenceless doors may seize,
If ever deed of honour did thee please,
Guard them, and him within protect from harms,
He can requite thee, for he knows the charms
That call Fame on such gentle acts as these,
And he can spread thy Name o’er Lands and Seas,
What ever clime the Suns bright circle warms.
Lift not thy spear against the Muses Bower,
The great Emathian Conqueror bid spare
The house of Pindarus, when Temple and Tower
Went to the ground: And the repeated air
Of sad Electra’s Poet had the power
To save the Athenian Walls from ruin bare.

The death of Sparta


In 371 BC, on the 6th of July, the Spartan army lost the battle of Leuctra.  In the process they lost their dominance as a land army and lost the myth of the unbeatable army which had lasted since the defense to the death at Thermopylae in 480 BC and the defeat of Persia at Platea in 479 BC.

A loss in battle 100 years before was not a death knell for Sparta, so what went so wrong in 371 BC?  To answer that you must understand the economics of the Spartan system.

Spartan boys were taken from their homes as children and raised in barracks as soldiers.  Each soldier was maintained in his position as a military professional by his estate.  The estates, large farms, were worked by slaves and the Spartan system was entirely reliant upon the goodwill of slaves to function.  Initially there were a large number of small estates.  Over time estates became larger and the number of soldier citizens diminished.  At the time of the battle of Platea the Helots were said to outnumber the Spartans by 7 to 1.

At any given time Sparta could only field about 5,000 elite troops.  These ‘special forces’ relied on lesser trained allies and even slave soldiers to supply weight of numbers.  The Spartan elite were the greatest and best trained soldiers in the world in their day.  On the battlefield they were marked by their red cloaks and their silent drill.  While other armies roared and sang and shouted the Spartans advanced in a silent wall of death.

Because there were so few elite Spartans, any serious loss of their numbers could have serious repercussions.  There were simply not enough estates and enough slaves to support a larger Spartan elite.  They tried to bridge this manpower gap by according a special elevated status to the sons of Spartans born to Helot mothers.  These boys could serve as middle level administrators and auxiliary soldiers.  But they could never rise to the rank of soldier citizen.

The nature of Greek warfare also helped to underscore the immortality of the Spartans.  Greek heavy infantry fought in a phalanx, a tightly packed line of spear men, ten to twelve ranks deep.  Your own shield, the great round pylon, protected your left hand side.  For protection on the right you relied on the shield of your neighbor.  The hoplites tended to lean in to the right to stay protected by their neighbors shield.  As a result there was a tendency for the phalanx to move gradually to the right.  To prevent this impetus armies would put their best trained and most veteran troops on the right flank.  This was the place of honour.  These troops would stand firm and prevent right hand drift.

In any battle with allies, the Spartan elite held the right flank.  This meant that they were facing the weak flank of their enemy.  The success of the Spartan elite was continually reinforced by facing them against weak foes.

The Theban general, Epaminondas, introduced three ground breaking innovations to the Greek way of war.  Firstly he placed his strongest troops in the left flank, directly facing the Spartans.  Secondly he arranged them in a phalanx 50 lines deep.  This provided an irresistible weight of numbers against the Spartan phalanx of only 12 deep.  Finally, he organised his remaining troops in echelon instead of phalanx.  They formed a series of blocks stepped further and further away from the Spartan line.  This denied the Spartan left flank contact with the weaker right flank of the Thebans.

At Leuctra the Spartan elite were smashed.  They lost between 1,000 and 4,000 troops.  The important thing is that most of the losses were elite Spartan troops instead of allies and slave soldiers.  These were irreplaceable Spartan Citizen soldiers, the product of 20 years of training.

Leuctra also shattered the illusion of invincibility of the Spartan troops.  The spell was broken, and the economic system was broken.  Sparta declined and became a bucolic backwater and an economic dead end.

At the same time, in the north, Philip of Macedon paid close attention to the Theban tactics.  The oblique line and the massed wedge became a trademark of the Macedonian war machine, and enabled Alexander to conquer the world.

Epitaph of Simonides at Thermopylae:

Go tell the Spartans, thou who passes by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

The Temple Mount


I have always been interested in the history of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Why is there a mosque sitting on the site most sacred to the Jewish religion?

The Al Aqsa mosque sits upon a rocky outcropping at the centre of the temple mount.  This is alleged to be the rock where Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son by Jehovah.  When he demonstrated his obedience God stayed his hand, so the dogma goes.

I have my own ideas on this.  I believe that Abraham was an intelligent Rabbi and spiritual leader of his people.  He figured out that you did not have to kill people to worship God.  For me the lesson here is “Don’t kill children, you can substitute them with a Goat or a Lamb, or a Dove, or a Fatted Calf.”

Abraham is important because he is a father to three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  All three lay claim to his legacy.

The rock on the temple mount became the central focus of the Jewish religion.  At some time around 832 BCE Solomon is held to have constructed the First Temple.  However there is no archaeological record for this construction.  This temple was allegedly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar after the siege of Jerusalem in 589-587 BCE.  The Jews were clearly a problem for the Babylonians who felt it necessary to exile the leadership to their capital where they could monitor them.

In 538 BCE Cyrus the Great allowed the Jewish leaders to return to the city of Jerusalem.  They immediately set about re-establishing the temple, but not without opposition from others in the area.  Some form of Jewish Temple existed on Mount Zion until the Hellenistic Period.

Following the conquest of the east by Alexander the Great, and the division of his empire, Judea became a pressure point between the Ptolemaic Egyptian lands and the Seleucid lands.  In 167 BCE Antiochus III drove out the Egyptians under Ptolemy V.  The Seleucids clearly saw the Jews as loyal to the Ptolemies and set about reducing their power base.  The temple was looted, services were stopped and the buildings were dedicated to Zeus.  Judaism was effectively outlawed.

In 160 BCE following the revolt of the Maccabees the Temple site was again back in Jewish hands and was cleansed and re-dedicated.

Between 20 and 18 BCE the temple was totally rebuilt by Herod the Great, a client king of the Roman Empire.  This is the Temple where the Christian Jesus is alleged to have overturned the tables of the moneychangers.

The temple was the centre of Sadducee control of Judaism.  Jesus was from a Pharisee sect and did not hold that worship needed to be tied to a particular pile of stones.  The money changing incident was a demonstration of belief by Jesus.  Abraham said “don’t kill children – kill animals instead” and Jesus said “don’t kill animals – the simple act of breaking your daily bread can be worship of God”.

This is not a message designed to sit well with the Sadducees, who made a profit on every sacrificial animal sold on the temple mount, and who also made a fortune on the Currency Exchange market when the rural hicks found that their silver was no good in the temple.  They had to buy “Temple Silver” to purchase their sacrifice.  No wonder the Sadducees had a problem with Jesus!  He was threatening their entire economic foundation.

Ignoring the economics and religious dogma, the Jews were not comfortable citizens of the Roman Empire, and rose up in rebellion (notice a pattern here?).  The “Great Revolt” lasted from 66-70 CE.

The Roman Emperor Vespasian sent in his son Titus, who besieged Rome in 70 CE, punished the population and burned the temple to the ground.  The destruction of the temple removed the power base from the sects that were centralised there.  In this power vacuum the new “Christian“  religion was able to prosper.

The subsequent Bar-Kokhba revolt in 132-136 CE sealed the fate of the Temple Jews, who were massacred by Hadrian’s troops in large numbers.   It also firmly established the distance between Judaism and Christianity.  Following the revolt both Sects were barred from Jerusalem.

By this time the Christians had already established Golgotha as their primary site of worship.  There is no doubt that the Jews would have had issues with Christian worship on the Temple Mount, despite their common link to Abraham.

The Christians therefore opted to venerate the site of Christ’s death and the associated tomb.  When Hadrian expelled the Jews and Christians from the city he had a temple dedicated to Venus constructed on the Christian site, presumably to remove their power base.

From here we roll forward to the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Golgotha.  In 325/326 CE Constantine the Great began construction of two interlinked churches over the tomb and the peak the hill of Calvary.  This firmly established the Christian centre of Jerusalem as separate to the Jewish site.

Under Byzantine rule the Jews and Samaritans faced increasing persecution which led to a number of Jewish and Samaritan revolts.  The final revolt occurred when the Jews sided with the invading Sassanid Empire against the Byzantines.  In 602 CE under Sassanid occupation the Jews re-established control over Jerusalem for a short time, but the Sassanids ended up siding with the majority Christian population by 617.

The Jews then played the other side of the coin and supported the reconquest of Jerusalem by the Byzantines under Heraclius in 630 CE.  There were attempts by the Jews to re-establish a temple on Mount Zion during the Sassanid occupation and during the subsequent Byzantine re-occupation, but they were torn down and the site was left as a ruin.  It seems no ruler wanted to see the rise of a new Jewish power base.

So it was when Umar led the victorious Islamic armies into Jerusalem in 638 CE.  By agreement with the Christian Bishop his entry was a peaceful one.  Umar was invited to pray at the Holy Sepulchre.  He declined on the basis that Muslims might subsequently claim it as a Mosque, and invalidate his promise to protect Christian interests.  Instead he had the Temple mount cleared, and constructed a wooden mosque on the site.

Umar found a prime piece of real estate in Jerusalem, at the heart of the city, good location, nice views and absent of a formal place of worship.  So he took it over.

Subsequently the Ummah defined the site as “The Furthest Mosque” (al-Masjid al Aqsa), revealed to Muhammed on his mystical night journey undertaken in 621 CE.  This cemented the al-Aqsa Mosque  as the third holiest site in the Islamic world.

Over the years Caliphs improved the mosque.  It was destroyed by an earthquake in 746 and rebuilt.  It was destroyed by another earthquake in 1033 (a religious Jew might take this as a sign).  The current mosque largely dates from the 1035 reconstruction.

Under Crusader rule of Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187 the Al Aqsa was used as a palace.  It was restored as a mosque by Saladin and has remained as such to the present day.

During the six day war in 1967 when the Israeli forces gained control of the old city of Jerusalem they secured Jewish access to the Western Wall.  There were suggestions from some hawks that only a few sticks of dynamite stood between the Jews and their ancient site of worship.  But cooler heads prevailed on that day.



Har Megiddo or Tel Megiddo are names for the Megiddo city mound.  Har Megiddo gave us the word Armageddon, the supposed site of the end of world battle from the book of Revelations in the Bible.

A Tell or Tel, is the usual name for the structure.  What looks like a natural hill is in fact the remains of human occupation.  A town is built on the plain using mud brick.  Over time the bricks crumble and new houses are built on top of the old ones.  After centuries of occupation the town rises above the plain.

Megiddo was the site of the first reliably recorded battle in history on this day in 1457 BCE.  The Egyptians, led by Pharaoh Thutmose III defeated the Canaanite army led by the King of Kadesh.

It is the first battle to record a casualty list.  The first recorded use of the compound bow.  And the first recorded battle in the area that has recorded the greatest density of battles of any place in the world.

The land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and from Antioch in the North to the Sinai and Aqaba in the South.  This narrow corridor is the primary highway for land movements between Africa, Europe and Asia.  Anyone controlling this land can benefit from imports, exports and innovations of three continents.  They can strategically control access from continent to continent.

Amenhotep fought campaigns here.  The Israelites fought the Canaanites.  Ramses the Great fought the Hittites here in the huge chariot battle of Kadesh.  The Egyptians sacked Jerusalem in the reigns of Pharaoh Sheshonk and King Rehoboam.  Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem.  Alexander the Great besieged Tyre.  The Seleucids fought an elephant and phalanx battle against the Ptolomies at Raphia in the modern Gaza strip.  The Maccabees fought the Seleucids.

The Romans fought there, including emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Vespasian and Titus.  The Arabs drove out the Byzantines.  The Crusaders drove out the Arabs.  The Mamelukes drove out the Crusaders.  Napoleon fought the Mamelukes here.  Then the Turks drove out the Mamelukes.  The British drove out the Turks in World War 1.  They fought the Vichy French in World War 2.  The Israelis then drove out the British.  The Egyptians, the Syrians, the Jordanians, the Palestinians, the Iranians, the Iraqis and the Lebanese have all tried to drive out the Israelis.  They fought the war of 1948.  Then the British and the French invaded Suez.  This was followed by the six day war, the Yom Kippur war, the South Lebanon war, the Intifada, the second Intifada.

If you Google the name of a town in this area of the world with the words “Battle of” in front of it, Google will ask “Which Battle?”

The battles I have mentioned here are only the really famous ones.  There are many, many more.  Armageddon indeed!