Anniversary Post: Nika Riots

Chariot RacesOn this day in 532, the Nika riots occurred. Basically, it was a fight that broke out by different partisans in the big chariot races in Constantinople. Now these partisans were, among other things, political parties. And they were angry about the arrests, three days earlier, of members of the Blues and Greens for murders that had occurred at a previous chariot race.

During the chariot races on 13 January 532, the fans stopped chanting “blue” or “green” and started chanting, “Nika.” This more or less means “win.” The main thing is that the people had united in their anger against Emperor Justinian. But Justinian was no fool; he understood how to divide and conquer. He sent word and gold to the Blues, who abandoned the Greens, allowing the troops to come in and slaughter them. In the end, half the city was burned and 30,000 of the rioters were killed.

The Nika riots were clearly a political uprising, but the proximate cause was the chariot race. It does remind me of football hooligans. But it more reminds me of terrorism. I doubt anyone at the time thought it was really all about chariot races. Yet there are a whole lot of people around today who think that terrorism is all about Islam. In fact, I’m still stinging about an argument I had some time ago where I let off an Islamophobe because I didn’t want to offend someone whose work I had admired. Since then, he’s shown that he is quite clearly an Islamophobe. The distance between New Atheist and Islamophobe can be a hair’s breadth.

Anyway: rioting over chariot races. Quite interesting just because, well: chariot races. Who’d have thought?


On a personal note: my parents were married 55 years ago today. But my mother died over a decade ago.

11 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Nika Riots

  1. 30,000 dead? That’s like one of the big beatdowns the Romans got from Hannibal. I tend to miss the idea that terrorism is a uniquely Arab thing because It’s so ridiculous. Nobody remembers the IRA? It wasn’t that long ago. I remember seeing something on CNN in the summer of 2001 where children walking to school in Northern Ireland attacked with rocks. Don’t remember which side was doing what, as it doesn’t matter. I do remember being ashamed of my heritage after seeing it. I remember partly because it was so close to 9/11, when terrorism became something everybody paid attention to. And the KKK is a huge terrorist organization, good christians all. Though we generally don’t say that because the white people, especially the asshole Southerners, get their feelings hurt so easily. Really, all of the Abrahamic religions in their most retrograde fundamentalist form are equally bad. And all in the same way. We don’t hear much about the ultra orthodox Jewish communities because they are so small and insular, but it’s the same misogynist, authoritarian poison. The New Atheists are mistaken in their preoccupation with Islam. The christian right is far more dangerous in terms of both domestic terrorism and their influence on US policy. And from a cultural perspective I find them far more odious. The Arab world never got the Enlightenment of the 18th century. The christian right can’t wait to be rid of it.

    • I think you just summarized my last 5 years of writing! I agree about it all. And I’ve been wondering about The Troubles for a while. I’ve been wondering, “Do I only know because I used to hang out in Irish pubs?” Because Americans are shockingly ignorant of it.

    • Kind of amazing though. It’s like nothing changes. But chariot races sound so bizarre. But they really aren’t much different from NASCAR. And with all the confederate flags at those events, a riot could easily be politically based. NASCAR Culture and Sport

  2. I wonder how many black NASCAR fans there are? Must be some.

    Those color-coded chariot fans were a big thing in Imperial Rome as well. Whenever I think about that I can’t help feeling “the more things change…”. Though I’m usually thinking of football fans and the like, I remember Demolition Derbies being quite popular when I was a kid.

    from your NASCAR post:
    “Lewis is right about the old atheists (like me): we just don’t care. That’s the big problem with the New Atheists: what’s the point of being an atheist if you have to think about it!”

    I don’t know, Frank. Have you ever lived in the Deep South? Religiosity is so constantly in your face that not thinking about it isn’t an option. There are lots of very concrete effects on your everyday life, too, from social and work opportunities to the availability of governmental services. I’ve spent quite a few years in the Northeast and Northwest as well and can attest to the different quality of life in those places.

    • Right! But aren’t there liberal religious Southerners and conservative ones? I’d take a religious liberal Southerner, who believes God has called them to care for poor people, over a Portland hipster, whose main aspiration in life is avoiding all contact with the lower orders, any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

      • I’ve met some exceptions, but for most evangelicals, “caring” involves a heavy dose of Jesus — the ultimate cure-all. Evangelical Christianity is primarily about having a “personal relationship with Jesus”. Salvation comes through Faith, not from good works, and it’s more important for the down and out to receive the Gospel than to receive charity.

        It isn’t exactly applicable, but I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from “Lawrence of Arabia” —
        Prince Feisal: “With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.”

        • No way — you can’t just start quoting “Lawrence” all up in here. Seriously. My ghost will jump out of your computer screen and give you a big happy hug. You don’t want that, and neither does my ghost, so let’s all agree to be non-great-movie-quoty. It’s really best.

          The exceptions are the important thing. As long as you grant those, bash away, bash away, bash away all at religion.

          That “personal relationship” bit has always bugged me. Like what, you have God on speed dial? Essentially, fundamentalists are saying, the universe really does revolve around them.

          Here’s another one, it’s related. Notice how when any tragic disaster happens, a plane crashes, a bridge falls down, there’s bound to be some fundamentalists mentioning how God saved them from that accident. “I was going to be on that plane/bridge, but my car stalled on the side of the highway. Angels must have been looking out for me!”

          So . . . the angels really hated the people who died? Those are some mean fucking angels. Don’t piss off those bastards, they’re truly nasty. “Nice life you have here. It’d be a shame if somebody, uh, ‘Rearranged’ it for ya.”

          “It’s fine, angels, I swear I only voted for the Democrats that one time, I was drunk at the polling booth and . . . OW! Stop! Okay, okay! Yeah, I voted Democrat twice, but your candidate was a real heel . . . I mean real healer! Healer! I’m voting for him next time! Alright, I’ll volunteer for his campaign! Stop hurting Tommy”

          The angels report back to headquarters. “Boss, we took care of that thing you asked for. You know, the thing with the guy.”

          “Huh? I’m busy. Laurie from Topeka is sending me a prayer about her grandkid with cancer. I haven’t decided yet if I’m gonna completely ignore this one, or dick around with it a bit allowing some remission before I kill the little bastard. Buzz off, you two.”

          BZZZ, BZZZ, go the wings of angels.

          “Gabriel.” “What?” “You should check this out.” “What, Michael? I’m masturbating, leave me alone.” “There’s some people making fun of us on the Internet.” “Well, that kills my boner. Lemme see. Holy shit, you’re right! What’s their IP address?”


    • That’s a fair point. However, I don’t think there is anything any more in your face than the institutionalization of the 12-step program — forcing religion on people when they are at their lowest and most vulnerable points in their lives. And I know many people who were drug addicts, forced into AA by the government, found God, got off drugs for whatever reason people get off drugs, stopped going to AA meetings, yet still hang on to their government-imposed religion for the rest of their lives. I totally believe in fighting against that with great vengeance and furious anger. And I’m more than willing to tell religious people that they are wrong to think that everyone believes in God, because I don’t. But there are other things that tend to be associated with atheism (like humanism and rationality and open mindedness) that I prefer to focus on because too many very vocal atheists do not represent those things that I associate with atheism. I do not consider Sam Harris a humanist except in the narrowest sense. I did not consider Hitchens very rational. And I do not consider Richard Dawkins very open minded. Given that atheism is such a small thing to hang a group identity on, it isn’t surprising that it goes off the rails in a way that humanism does not.

      • I felt terribly isolated as a kid in the South, but until I moved away I didn’t quite realize how much of that was due to being soaked in religion 24/7 (the cliquishness, anti-intellectualism and football mania are all part of the same group-identity fabric as the religiosity). Even later I never really thought of atheism as an identity. Since moving back here I’ve tried to connect with a local atheist Meetup group, but meetings are very few and far between — probably because most members have the same attitude as I do. In contrast, there seems to be a pretty healthy atheist scene in my old residence Seattle, but in 15 years it never occurred to me to look them up. As with other issues, the pernicious effects of institutionalized religion are easier to ignore when they aren’t grinding you personally.

        • I used to go to atheist meetings in Portland in 1990. Those people were really outsiders. It’s amazing how things have changed. It is far more acceptable now.

          I know that having, say, a liberal group when you live in a sea of red can be very important. And that can lead to extremism — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is nice to live in a place where I don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff. Although I am still accosted by plenty of JDs (and a much smaller number of Mormons) around here. But I mostly feel pity for them.

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