Wednesday, August 19, 2020

History Often Rhymes, Sometimes Repeats

The Nika riots, Nika revolt or Nika sedition took place against Emperor Justinian I in Constantinople over the course of a week in 532 CE. They were the most violent riots in the city's history, with nearly half of Constantinople being burned or destroyed and tens of thousands of people killed.

I came across the story of these riots while watching a series of lectures by Ryan Reeves on Early and Medieval Church History.  The mirror to our time is uncanny.

First, the repeating part: the Roman and Byzantine Empires had associations based on suburbs or subdivisions of the community, each supporting its own sports teams – particularly chariot racing.  In Constantinople there were four major factions, each team known by their colors.  The two strongest were the Blues and the Greens.

These associations were not merely focused on the sport; they became a focal point for various social and political issues, the team association providing an outlet for the people where none otherwise existed.

In 531 some members of the Blues and Greens had been arrested for murder in connection with deaths that occurred during rioting after a recent chariot race.  Relatively limited riots were not unknown at chariot races, similar to the football hooliganism that occasionally erupts after association football matches in modern times. The murderers were to be executed, and most of them were.

Two escaped, one Blue and one Green.  Justinian, facing external pressure from the Persians, wanted to keep things calm in the city.  He decided to restart the games and to commute the sentences to imprisonment.  The people, however, wanted a full pardon.

In addition to being unpopular with the masses, Justinian was also unpopular with the nobles – having been removed from the civil service, they lost their power.  Further, Justinian’s legal reforms made it difficult for the nobles to hide their dirty deeds via obscure laws and rulings.

In any case, Justinian refused to pardon the two offenders.  The riots began on January 13, 532.  Justinian’s palace was next to the Hippodrome, and the crowds broke out:

For the next five days, the palace was under siege. The fires that started during the tumult resulted in the destruction of much of the city, including the city's foremost church, the Hagia Sophia (which Justinian would later rebuild).

The senators saw this as an opportunity to overthrow Justinian; the rioters were likely controlled by members of the senate.  A new emperor was declared; Justinian was ready to throw in the towel, with an escape route prepared. 

This is where the repeating of history stops…certainly so far.  His wife, Theodora, talked him out of escaping, saying:

"Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress." She is also credited with adding, "[W]ho is born into the light of day must sooner or later die; and how could an Emperor ever allow himself to be a fugitive."

Justinian responded, killing about 30,000 rioters.  He executed the replacement emperor and exiled the senators behind the riots.


It should be pretty clear – just change a couple of names, and we see the headlines from the last four years and specifically the last six months.  It even has sports right in the middle of it.


  1. Many similarities. I was listening to Tom Woods yesterday and there was a comment about what would happen to America if Trump is reelected and the Leftist Revolution goes full bore. The 2 plausible choices for the Right were 1) secession of blue and red states from one another, leading to a peace but disunion or 2) Trump or some other leader of the Right goes dictator and snuffs out the Left's rebellion with no mercy. A Pinochet type of character.

    I think Libertarians would prefer 1) for the most part. But I think Republicans and others on the Right would go for 2). Outside of Mises style Libertarians, people don't even consider secession, so I think it is unlikely.

    That Ryan Reeves guy is awesome by the way. He has lectures on Tolkien and Lewis that I am going to watch.

    1. Regarding your option 2, I remember Angelo Codevilla writing, sometime shortly after Trump was first elected, that the people who are tired of the immoral slide and leftist browbeating (I don't remember his exact phrasing) would sooner or later get what they want. If not through Trump, just wait to see who they elect next time.

      If he is right and things don't work well via whoever comes next, I suspect by the third time the process will not be via election.

    2. I'd definitely go for option 1, but I almost wouldn't mind option 2 at this point, depending on how bad things get.

      The city authorities should definitely crack down on these street thugs, but they are not going to for political reasons, to be sure; I'm just not so sure what those reasons are.

      CJ Hopkins at OffGuardian makes a compelling case that the plan was to entice Trump to use dictatorial powers to descend upon the cities and crack down on the rioters with the national guard. This would give the military an excuse to overthrow Trump in order to 'restore democracy'. That's an interesting theory, but is that what is really going on?

      Or are they just looking to use physical intimidation to get people to accept some of their newly proposed radical policies? Is this their vehicle for reparations? Green New Deal? Seems unlikely.

      Maybe they just want to make Trump's America look as bad as possible before the election, even if it means allowing hooligans to burn down their own cities on their watches. That seems like a plan likely to backfire.

    3. ATL, every revolution has many fathers. I think this one is no different. I think I will write something on this.

    4. Here it is:

  2. So the powerful scapegoat Justinian decided to use his power to defend himself rather than give in to the manipulated rabble.

    So far Western institutions don't look capable of doing the same against the Woke mob. Perhaps it's for the best, considering the character of those institutions. But then the mob's handlers would hardly be an improvement. Or their leaders, in the likely case that the handlers lose control over the monster they've been feeding.

    1. One thing we can take comfort in, perhaps: almost every "successful" revolution ends up devouring its first leaders. The French and Russian revolutions are prime examples.

    2. I think in many cases the handlers are worse, or more radically communist and bloodthirsty, than the mob itself.

    3. An insightful comment, as is usual from you ATL. Indeed, it seems to me the mob is a useful tool for the "handlers," to an end that is not entirely predictable, but predictable enough to those of us who value liberty. Peg

  3. I think the further root of it is the universities, where they have all been trained (and before this, their public and "woke" private schools).

  4. If either Trump or Biden (presuming he will go the distance) "wins" by a thin margin, the losing side will immediately claim fraud and sue for redress, throwing the entire process into the courts and just generally mucking it up. Remember Florida 2000, Bush vs. Gore and the hanging chad debacle.

    If this happens and Biden comes out on top, the Right will grumble and complain, but probably will accept the situation as it is. The Left will then immediately start pushing for more, forcing the Right to either "raise the bet or fold."

    If Trump is victorious, the Left will go berserk and we will see the cities burn, even more than they are now. What will come out of that is anyone's guess.

    The only way I see the matter secured relatively peacefully is for Trump to win convincingly by a landslide, large enough that the Left is thoroughly cowed and muted. Biden will not be able to do this, it is possible for Trump. Not likely, but possible. This scenario would firmly cement the Senate and probably give the House back to the Republicans. I don't think this will occur.

    If this were to happen, the Right would strut, preen, and crow like a feisty Bantam rooster. The Left would go berserk and we would see the cities burn, even more than they are now. Trump, however, would be in a position then to address the situation with force on a level America has never seen before.

    Another Pinochet, as RMB mentioned above.

    America, as we knew it, is done. It will either split and separate or become extremely violent and chaotic. There is no more "Peace, with unity."

  5. In some respects, America today is similar to the situation in Tsarist Russia just before the communist takeover. Bolsheviks and Mensheviks everywhere. Reds fighting Whites. Official government desperate to stay in power. Everyone in the middle desperate to stay alive.

    One major difference, though, is that there was no possibility that Russia could separate peacefully into various regions. It had to go through 80 years of Communist rule before complete exhaustion set in, allowing the dissolution of the country. America has a chance to simply split apart, with the various states going their own direction politically and peacefully.

    I like to think this might happen, but I am not optimistic. Human nature, being what it is, often requires a good, hard thumping from time to time in order to correct wrong behavior. I've been there. My own experience convinces me this is the most likely road we are going to travel. If we do, it's going to be ugly.